Srinagar: Though after an arduous wait yet the Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities of J&K – Gujjar-Bakarwals and Gaddi-Sippi - are finally looking up to a bright future.
Credit goes to the present ruling dispensation in the UT, which has ended an era of apathy and discrimination by ensuring that all the benefits including those of much awaited Forest Rights Act (FRA) percolate down to the community, deprived of its rights for three decades or so.
Notwithstanding their competing claims to champion the cause of the Scheduled Tribes (STs), the successive governments in J&K led by the National Conference, PDP and Congress miserably failed to implement FRA in Jammu and Kashmir due to their vote-bank politics.
Ironically, the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers in J&K had to wait for around fourteen years to get their due rights at par with their counterparts across the country.
Finally, it was the NDA government led by BJP - the party accused of harassment of tribals by these traditional parties of J&K off and on, through their vicious propaganda – which ensured the applicability of FRA in 2019 in the Union Territory.
The process in all sincerity was taken forward in 2021 by the UT administration led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha with its implementation followed by several initiatives aiming at the inclusive development of tribal communities in J&K.
The Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 of the Parliament was implemented in the entire country on December 29, 2006. However, it became applicable in Jammu & Kashmir on October 31, 2019, the day the erstwhile state was bifurcated and formally recognised into the two UTs of J&K and Ladakh. LG Manoj Sinha administration formally implemented the Forest Rights Act in J&K on September 13, 2021, by handing over individual and community rights certificates to the beneficiaries of Gujjar-Bakarwals and Gaddi-Sippi communities.
From September 2021 to June 30, 2022, 4100 community rights have already been handed over to the beneficiaries and many rights have been given. Thousands of tribal families have directly benefited in just nine months after the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.
Many tribal leaders of NC, PDP, and Congress including Mian Altaf, Taj Mohiuddin, and Aijaz Khan besides others who remained in power for so long, encashed votes but didn’t do anything for protecting the rights of tribals. What had stopped them from getting this legislation in the Assembly for the implementation of FRA in J&K for the last 14 years?
On many occasions, the mainstream political parties of J&K have blamed the BJP government for the harassment of the tribals. But ultimately it is the BJP-led government at the Centre that has ensured several initiatives and the overall upliftment of the tribal communities in J&K.
This observation has a substance too as the UT administration has been unrelenting, in the past one year or so, as far as steps aimed at empowerment of J&K tribals are concerned.
As Secretary of Tribal Affairs Department, Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary too elaborates, “J&K has now adopted a policy of inclusive development with a focus on tribal communities. Apart from guaranteeing much-awaited constitutional rights like FRA, we are now working to earmark the budget proportionate to the tribal population in all sectors of development and welfare. LG Manoj Sinha has spearheaded the holistic development of the tribal population be it in education, healthcare, migration, or political empowerment. This will yield remarkable results soon.”
This resolve finds reflection in the following initiatives:
of livestock and families of the migratory tribal population from various districts to the highland pastures.
TRANSIT ACCOMMODATIONS ON ANVIL
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha-led administration has also approved a project to establish transit accommodations for tribal families undertaking seasonal migration.
These transit accommodations will include space for 150-200 families, community kitchens, medical dispensaries, veterinary dispensaries, community toilets, and livestock yards.
These accommodations are being set up at Rs 3.87 crore at Kandi in Rajouri, Thannamandi, Rajouri, Bahramgala, Poonch, NH Ramban, NH Udhampur, Pulwama, Pir Marg, Lal Ghulam, and Dubjan in Shopian.
300 TRIBAL ASHA WORKERS TO BE APPOINTED UNDER NHM
The J&K government through National Health Mission (NHM) has decided to appoint more than 300 ASHA workers from the tribal community to work for the healthcare of the population living in the high pasture region during the summer season.
Tribal Affairs Department (TAD) has also distributed 41 ambulances and 30 Mobile Vehicle Units (MVUs) providing curative reproductive and child health services will be distributed by the end of August.
200 SMART SCHOOLS IN TRIBAL AREAS
Besides all this, the UT government has also sanctioned a project to transform 200 schools into smart schools in tribal areas at the cost of Rs 40 Cr. Tribal Affairs Department has completed the modernization of its residential hostels in all the districts with the upgradation of infrastructure at the cost of Rs 10.50 Cr. According to an estimate, 3000 students have benefitted from this initiative. New hostels are also being built in all the districts with an estimated cost of Rs 1732 lakh.
Tribal Affairs Department has disbursed the highest ever scholarship amounting to Rs 31.12 Cr to tribal students during the Financial Year 2021-22.
‘LACK OF AWARENESS AFFECTING PACE OF GRANTING INDIVIDUAL RIGHT CERTIFICATES’
Post implementation of the Forest Registration Act, there has also been political propaganda by certain quarters claiming that the J&K government has failed in granting individual rights to tribals in J&K.
“The pace of giving individual rights certificates to tribals may be slow yet the implementation of the Forest Rights Act is an enabling process because it is a diverse community and there are some complexities including the fact that nearly six lakh tribals migrate for half of the year. Besides, there is a lack of awareness about the formalities required in completing the registration for attaining the rights,” said a senior official of the J&K Government.
Despite this, J&K is almost keeping pace with the rest of the country vis-a-vis the implementation of the FRA.
According to recent data provided by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs during Question Hour in Rajya Sabha, the process of distributing titles under FRA is happening at a snail’s pace as the majority of states have provided entitlements under this Act to a handful of families and communities.