None has approached Gram Sabha with claims on forest land: Officials

Even as the Forest Rights Act has been extended to J&K, the Gujjars-Bakarwals and other forest dwellers have yet to approach Gram Sabha with the claim on the forest land to get legal authority to live and cultivate, officials said.

A forest department officials told the Greater Kashmir, “We have evicted several encroachments on forest land in certain cases due to court directives.”

“If the cases are approved or proved (regarding right of nomads on forests) in Gram Sabha, the forest land can be returned even if the nomads are evicted,” the official added.

The official said: “Forest Rights Act has been extended to J&K since October 31, 2019. The Scheduled Tribe and others dwellers have to put in their claims on the forest land before the respective Gram Sabha that they have been living in forests from December 13, 2005, if they are tribal and in case they are non-tribals, they should be living in the forests for last 75 years (three generations).”

The official, wishing not to be quoted, said: “They can live in the forests, cultivate it, and use minor forest products. However, the process of approaching Gram Sabha has not begun in J&K so far. They should approach with the claims to their respective Gram Sabha.”

Founder Secretary, Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, Dr Javed Rahi said: “Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddis are facing evictions. They are barred from using minor forest produce, grazing etc. I met Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and requested him not to displace tribes till their claims on the land they occupied for centuries are rejected by the competent authorities.”

He said: “We have moved the court.”

Advocate Khalid Mustafa Bhatti told the Greater Kashmir: “The pastures have been made inaccessible for the nomads and other forest dwellers on which their cattle, goats and sheep are dependent, despite protection under Forest Right Act.”

Bhatti alongwith other rights activists of nomads has filed a plea before the court seeking protection of their rights under Forest Rights Acts in J&K.

“The benefits of the Act have not been given to the nomads and actual forest dwellers in J&K,” said Advocate Bhatti.

With this policy, he said,“We have to import milk from Punjab and livestock for meat purpose from Rajasthan in J&K because nomads i.e. Gujjars and Bakerwals have been deprived of their natural inhabitations.”

He said nomads are being uprooted in the name of encroachment from forests where they have constitutional rights.

Pertinently, nomads have often become victims of evictions from the forests and their pastures have been locked with barbed wires depriving their live-stocks and cattle from the forest produces in the name of protections of the forests in J&K. In Jammu particularly, such evictions have always been questioned by the tribal activists and politicians.