Nengroo Basti: A case study

Poverty and ignorance deprive people of the benefits they could derive from welfare programmes
Nengroo Basti: A case study

Lack of education is one of the main causes of global poverty. Not every person without a formal or non formal education lives in abject poverty, but several researches have proved that most of those living in extreme poverty do lack basic education. The families living below the poverty line (BPL) most likely keep their children out of school, which means that their future generation will also have a greater chance of living in poverty. Technical and formal education can open the doors for jobs, resources, and skills which in-turn lead to poverty eradication.

Sayyidina Ali, one of the great Caliphs of Islam, said, “If poverty is a real man, I will kill him”. Even a Hadith suggests that poverty can lead to loss of faith. From those two statements, it can be inferred that poverty is a critical problem that must be taken care of.

There is an important saying of Mahatma Gandhi wherein he asks authorities at the helm that “to take decisions keeping in mind the last man standing in row gets benefitted”. Gandhi ji has related poverty with the worst form of violence. As India completes 75 years of independence this year, is the last man in the queue getting benefitted? The Central and State governments announce several welfare schemes and programmes for the benefit of the poor every year, but how many of these schemes reach the bottom of the pyramid, in reality? How many poor and disadvantaged communities are benefitted? Is the administration really serious about addressing the problems of people living in remote corners of India ?

Case Study

For the last 4 months I, along with my team, have been highlighting problems faced by people living in a small hamlet known as Nengroo Basti located in Darwan village of Charar e Sharief tehsil of district Budgam. A deep field research and several visits to this area made me believe that poverty and illiteracy contribute to underdevelopment; and Govt welfare services also don’t reach to such voiceless people. The authorities at helm, especially the Govt officials, also take such people for granted. In November last year I went to this area along with some friends. There was hardly any matriculate in this hamlet. All the households in Nengroo Basti live below the poverty line (BPL) and are mostly landless. People earn their livelihood by working at construction sites in the local town of Charar Sharief, or surrounding apple farms. In the past, many would indulge in timber smuggling as well, but that has stopped now.

When I, along with some colleagues went to Nengroo Basti, also called Nengroo colony, for the first time, I found the village had been fenced from all the sides and looked like a small jail. The local residents were mostly illiterate and poor. They looked like a primitive tribal group. I met one Akram Nengroo 75. He told me that forest officials have fenced off their entire habitation. I was told that the forest department was not even allowing them to bury their loved ones in forest land. In the last one year the locals have buried two persons in a Masjid compound. I have already written a detailed piece on that issue.

The 15 families who live in Nengroo Basti did not encroach on this land but had been shifted to the area by the state government 14 years ago after landslides destroyed their village at Sani Darwan. Under a rehabilitation programme they were resettled in the area by National Conference Govt in 2007 and were also provided 7 marla plots (1905 sq feet) each. Same amount of land was allotted for a masjid and a Govt school. But the Govt didn’t allot them any land for the graveyard. People living in Nengroo Basti are the forest-dwellers like many communities such as Gujjars, Bakerwals and others are traditional forest-dwelling tribes. Their way of life had remained reasonably undisturbed for centuries. But since October 31, 2019, when the Union government extended to J&K the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, a progressive piece of legislation that ensures the land tenure, food security and livelihood of traditional forest dwellers, the majority of communities like that of the Nengroos have actually been treated more harshly than they ever had been before.

Residents of Nengroo Basti did not encroach upon the land but had been shifted here by the state government 14 years ago after landslides destroyed their ancestral village located around 2 kms away. Why hasn’t the Govt provided these people with land for a graveyard? People like Akram Nengroo have grown up in these forests and today they are called encroachers and the entire habitation is fenced and converted into an undeclared jail?

Forest Rights

Nengroo Basti rejoiced when the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was rolled out in J&K. They were told on radio and TV programmes by the Govt that the FRA would entitle them to several rights, including the right to have a graveyard in the village and the right to acquire land for a school and health centre. But this seems to be a distant dream for the people living in this remote place. These people used a piece of land to bury dead people for almost last 10 years but after FRA that practice has been stopped by the Govt (forest department). One landless family of Hameed Mir who lives in a shed has been entitled for constructing a new house under PM Awas Yojna (PMAY) , but the BDO office wants an NOC from the Forest Department? Hameed can get land under the individual forest rights (IFR) but for a person like him it will take ages. The Power Department had slapped an electricity bill of Rs 47000 on him and it was only after I took up the matter with Executive Engineer Power Department Budgam it was brought down to Rs 14000. The humble Executive Engineer before his transfer last month paid the balance amount of Rs 14000 from his own pocket as Hameed lives in abject poverty.

Not only has the rollout of the FRA not provided the nomadic communities with the Act’s promised benefits, but its extension to J&K has actually made life more difficult for them because the Forest Department appears to feel that the legislation challenges their authority. I made several videos about this issue and highlighted it on social media as well. The idea of writing this piece is not to highlight the problems faced by the poor residents of Nengroo Basti, but I am trying to throw light on a different issue which is related to official indifference and negligent attitude of state authorities towards disadvantaged groups who are poor and illiterate. This is how poverty and illiteracy impede social and economic development of an area? I went to Nengroo colony several times after my November visit. I also took members of an NGO, Kashmir Welfare Trust (KWT) there around December, and they distributed a lot of food packets, ration and other essential items for winter.

Jan 28th visit

On January 28th we again went to Nengroo Basti. I requested a friend Dr Riyaz Ahmad Daga (Physician) to accompany me. We took a lot of medicine with us. Dr Riyaz examined around 70 patients at Nengroo Basti and 100 at another locality called Choontinad. Members of KWT also joined. They brought food packets, ration and warm blankets along with them, in a lorry. After reaching the area, we could not move up from the main road as the link road going upwards to Nengroo Basti was not cleared of the snow. The area had witnessed huge snowfall around 3 ½ feet on 7th and 8th January and until 28th Jan, it had not been cleared? We could not move up and had to carry our medicine boxes with us. The local residents helped us. The food material, ration, and blankets were distributed on the main road.

Conclusion

While leaving Nengroo Basti, Gandhi Ji’s saying came to my mind. The last man standing in the queue is not at all getting benefitted by Govt’s welfare programmes. The inhabitants of Nengroo colony were first deprived of a graveyard which was their legitimate right. The snow was also not cleared from their link road when all roads and link roads in Kashmir were cleared by the Govt? For the last 14 years I have been told that the Govt never ever cleared snow from Nengroo Basti.

Noted writer Eli Khamarov says poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Anant Fellow for Climate Action and Acumen India Fellow. He is also Chairman JK RTI Movement

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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