Kashmir Indepth

‘Stop harassing nomads or face serious consequences’
Don’t force peace loving Gujjar, Bakarwal to take extreme steps: Mehbooba Mufti to Govt

Irfan Ahmad
Srinagar Nov 16 (KINS): Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti Monday said that government was “pushing” Gujjars and Bakarwal community to take extreme steps.
This she said while visiting Gujjars and Bakarwals in South Kashmir’s Pahalgam area where authorities have evicted hundreds of kanals of land from “encroachers”.
“Gujjar and Bakarwal people have always opted for peace and never for the violence. They are being illegally evicted from here. They have been living on this land since years but are being deliberately targeted for being Muslims,” Mehbooba said, according to news agency Kashmir Indepth News Service (KINS).
“Where will they go amid intense cold? Government wants to settle outsiders here and remove these people whose ancestors lived here for decades. By such steps, government is pushing Gujjar and Bakarwal community to take some extreme steps,” she claimed.
She warned the government of serious consequences if they don’t stop “harassing” nomads.
“24,000 kanals of land has already been given to industrialists. Whom you want to give this land,” she asked.
She said the demolition of temporary structures of nomadic Kashmiri tribes comprising Gujjar and Bakerwal community is a “brazen attempt to make the natives homeless in the name of so-called anti-encroachment drive in Kashmir forests”.
“With utter disregard to the tribal culture, the administration is destroying their temporary shelters of the Gujjars and Bakerwals with the aim to create fear and hit at everything that is even remotely Kashmiri. We note with utter sadness and apprehension that the drive to demolish temporary homes of the nomadic tribe, which they use during  rotational migration from Jammu and Kashmir, is a sinister design and perhaps a test case for engineering demographic change in Kashmir,” she said.
Mehbooba said the forest department is taking refuge in legal jargon but the aim is to make the tribe homeless. The nomadic tribe belongs to the forests.
“The nomadic tribe abandon their temporary structures in harsh winters when the mercury in the valley dips and rerun to them during the summer season when it gets hot in Jammu. Once they return they will find their homes demolished. Where will they go? Are they being punished for the crimes they never committed or is their faith their crime?”
Gujjars have been seeking implementation of Forest Rights Act in J&K so that they can enjoy rights on forest land.
On December 18, 2006, parliament passed Forest Right Act- 2006 whereby the Schedule Tribe and other traditional forest dwellers were entitled to have rights on forest land and other resources.
The Act could not be implemented as Jammu and Kashmir had Article 370 owing to which central laws were not being directly implemented in the erstwhile state.
Tribal and forest dwellers have been demanding extension of the Act to J&K so that they too can enjoy “rights” on the forest land.
For the last few weeks, Wild Life Department, Forest Department Pahalgam Development Authority have served hundreds of eviction notices to people which they claim were illegally residing there.
Hundreds of people especially Gujjars and Bakarwals have received eviction notices for the last two weeks citing “illegal encroachment” of the land.
Under this Act, forest dwellers can cultivate land to a maximum of four hectares and have rights on the minor forest produce. Former PDP legislator, Qamar Hussain, had moved a bill to the Assembly, seeking implementation of the Forest Right Act.
However, the BJP had opposed the bill.
Wildlife Warden Pahalgam Raouf Zargar said they are retrieving land which has been illegally encroached over the years.
“Some people including Gujjars had encroached upon forest land. We removed the encroachments. We did delimitation in Pahalgam to identify our land then removed these illegal encroachments,” he told news agency KINS.
“We evicted around 190 kanals of land in Mamal, Aru area and will continue this drive. Forest, Wild Life Departments also retrieved their land,” he said.
SDM Pahalgam Bashir Ahmad said they have retrieved hundreds of kanals of land from encroachers in Pahalgam.  (KINS)

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