Kashmir Indepth

Relief for forest dwellers as Govt implements Forest Rights Act in J&K


Arjumand Shah

Srinagar Sep 14 (KINS): The tribal population has a reason to rejoice as the Jammu and Kashmir administration has implemented the Forest Rights Act in the Union Territory.

On December 18, 2006, Indian Parliament passed Forest Right Act- 2006 whereby the Schedule Tribe and other traditional forest dwellers are entitled to graze their cattle in forestland, access water resources and establish livelihoods based on forest produce. It was the product of a long struggle by India’s marginal communities to reclaim their rights over the forestland on which they have been dependent since decades.

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.

However, the administration says that the Forest Rights Act has been implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, which will bring a much needed relief to the tribal population.

On Monday Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha said, “After a wait of more than 14 years, due rights have been conferred upon the tribal community by implementing the Forest Rights Act, 2006, keeping in mind the basic spirit of social equality and harmony as guided by the Constitution of our country and Parliament.”

He said that development of Tribal communities of J&K is among the top priorities of the government for which the administration has taken various unprecedented initiatives.

In the recent past it was seen that Gujjars and Bakarwals were being evicted from forest land in absence of implementation of Forests Rights Act in Jammu and Kashmir.

“By implementation of the Forest Rights Act, the tribal population will feel a huge relief. We have been demanding its implementation for the last 14-years. Now we can have rights on forests like other tribal populations in the country,” Chowdhary Rashid, a resident of Kishtwar, told news agency Kashmir Indepth News Service (KINS).

Forest dwellers like Gujjars or Bakarwals have been demanding extension of Forest Rights Act to J&K so that they too can enjoy “rights” on the forest land.

Gujjars, Bakerwals, among the tribal population, mostly depend on forest land for their livelihoods and shelter and is third largest community in Jammu and Kashmir after Kashmiris and Dogras. They primarily rear cattle, goats, and sheep.

The Gujjars, Bakarwal constitute around 15 percent population of Jammu and Kashmir and are largely nomadic Muslim groups. There have been many attempts to evict them from forest land since 2015.

In 2018, Qamar Hussain, who was then a PDP legislator had moved a bill in the former J&K assembly seeking implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the erstwhile state. However, the BJP had opposed the bill. Chowdhary Lal Singh, the then Forest Minister had told the Assembly that Forest Rights Act cannot be implemented in J&K without the consent of the state legislature given J&K’s special status under the Indian constitution. (KINS)

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