Eviction drive row: Meet at Forest Ministers house, BJP ministers extend support

Amid controversy over eviction of Gujjars and Bakerwals from forest areas of Jammu, BJP ministers met at the residence of party colleague and Forest Minister Bali Bhagat in winter capital late Saturday evening and discussed the issue.
Eviction drive row: Meet at Forest Ministers house, BJP ministers extend support
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Amid controversy over eviction of Gujjars and Bakerwals from forest areas of Jammu, BJP ministers met at the residence of party colleague and Forest Minister Bali Bhagat in winter capital late Saturday evening and discussed the issue.

The BJP'S Transport Minister, Abdul Gani Kohli, however didn't attend the meeting. Kohli, who represents Kalakote constituency of Rajouri district, has openly criticized the Forest Minister over the drive against people of tribal communities.

Sources said the meeting took place at official residence of Forest Minister who is at the center of the controversy and is, along with his party BJP, facing strong criticism from opposition National Conference and Congress and separatists as well for initiating "selective drive".

 "I have got full support of my party ministers and everybody is backing me on my decision to free the forest land from encroachers," said Bhagat.

To a question whether the meeting discussed the eviction drive and the controversy it has generated, Kohli said: "Many issues came up for discussion, we deliberated upon functioning of the Government as well. The party ministers extended their full support to me."

The eviction drive and reported demolition of Kothas (kuchha houses) in some Muslim- dominated areas of Jammu including Kalakote, Shidhra, Bathandi started following an order by General Administration Department last month.

Though the issue has united the opposition and separatist parties against the drive, Minister for Forest has been maintaining that the decision wouldn't be withdrawn.

"Only those people who are in nexus with land mafia are giving a spin to the action started by the Government. But I won't be cowed down," he said. "The drive will be extended to the entire State."

While former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has questioned the "selective drive" against people of the tribal communities saying while the encroachment of forests has taken place in Ladakh, Kashmir and in Jammu, the present government has ordered inquiry only in those areas of Jammu where Muslim population was in majority.

"This has made the process questionable," he told a protests rally at Lal Chowk on Saturday.

Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq on Friday termed the drive as "move by BJP to implement RSS agenda against Muslims in Jammu".

"We will oppose it tooth and nail," he said.

A senior BJP minister who was part of the BJP Minister's meeting said they would back any action ordered by the Government.

"The question is not whether we support one minister or other we have to see it from the Government's point of view. That is how it has to be seen only," he said. "The fact that meeting took place at Forest Minister's residences is an answer to many questions."

BJP's state Vice-President Ramesh Arora said action initiated by the Forest Minister shouldn't be seen as a move by him in his personal capacity.

"It is the drive by the Government and not an individual minister," Arora said.

However he said the drive shouldn't be "selective in nature". "There may be people of particular community involved in it but encroacher is an encroacher and he can be from any community," Arora said.

The rights of nomads in J&K are restricted as Forest Rights Act, 2006 enacted by the Parliament has not been extended to the state. Gujjars of J&K are demanding extension of the Act to the state so that they can also have rights over forest lands.

Bakerwals and Gujjars constitute 20 percent of State's total population and are mostly landless.

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