Tuesday, 21 March, 2023
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Gujjar, Bakerwal communities peaceful, govt ‘pushing them to the wall’, Mehbooba Mufti says

PDP chief & J&K ex-CM Mehbooba Mufti interacted with Gujjars and Bakerwals whose houses were dismantled during a recent govt drive to vacate forestland.

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Srinagar: Peoples Democratic party chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti Monday launched a scathing attack on the Narendra Modi government, accusing it of uprooting the local population from their homes while bringing in “people from across the country” into the region.

She also accused the Centre of handing over land in J&K to its “capitalist friends”.

“Since our domicile law was scrapped, the government is bringing people from across the country but people from here (J&K) are being uprooted,” said Mehbooba who interacted with nomads in Kashmir’s Pahalgam area whose property has been dismantled by the local administration in a recent government drive to get them to vacate forest land.

“This is not Pahalgam only where people are being targeted, but in Bhatandi, Sunjwan and other areas of Jammu where Muslims live, they are being targeted,” Mehbooba said in a video released by her party on social media after her visit.

“Wherever (there are) Gujjars and Bakerwals, they are being targeted,” she added. “They have watched over these jungles for years and now they are being uprooted. Where will they go in these winters? Don’t they (authorities) fear God.”

She said the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities are peaceful and accused the government of “pushing them to the wall”.

“They have never opted for violence. They are pushed to the wall and are being forced to take harsh steps,” she added. “I am appealing to the central government to not trouble the Gujjar and Bakerwal nomad communities or you will face harsh consequences.”

Also read: ‘Moved by Islamophobia’, Rajasthan youth applied for Islamic Studies MA in Kashmir, made history

Effect of Article 370 withdrawal

The dismantling of structures in J&K forests is also to do with the scrapping of Article 370. According to a senior government official, the state forest policy that governed the region’s forests until 5 August last year were enacted under the erstwhile Dogra regime (1846-1947).

“The settlement was carried out under the Kashmir forest notice in 1912 to demarcate forests in the province of Kashmir concerning concessions and ownership of forest produce to forest dwellers,” the official said. “But after 5 August, the Indian Forest Act was extended to J&K.”

Political parties have, however, been accusing the J&K government of not implementing the Act that they say could offer a legal framework and protect rights of nomads.

Last week, the J&K government had formed a committee to examine among others, loss caused to the public exchequer by continuous occupation of the government land and by the erstwhile licensees.

The 12-member committee formed to implement orders of the J&K High Court is also expected to evict “unauthorised occupants” and retrieve “public property from illegal occupants”.

In a statement issued by the PDP, Mehbooba was quoted as saying, “While hundreds of new provisions of laws have been introduced without any consultation with local stakeholders and mostly not beneficial to us, the few laws that could result in some benefits to the residents are not being implemented. One of them is the Forest Act of
2006, which could provide a legal framework for Gujjar and Bakerwal rights on forest land.

She added: “Similarly, while lands are being requisitioned in bulk, the Central land Acquisition Act is not being implemented, so that the landholders of J&K do not receive any benefit therefrom.”

Talib Hussain, chairman of the All Tribal Coordination Committee, said demolishing a home or a seasonal hutment of a tribal inside the forest violates two laws — The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (Forest Act, 2006) and The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Also read: ‘Forced Covid test’ on Jammu-Srinagar highway has commuters fuming, admin defends decision


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