Srinagar: Amid the outrage among the regional political parties and rage in Gujjar-Bakerwal community for demolishing their structures in Jammu and Kashmir, the JK administration, has published the names of over 63,000 individuals, accusing them of illegally occupying more than 15,000 hectares of forest land.

According to a list shown on the JK Forest Department, the names of the alleged encroachers has been divided JK into 32 forest divisions, of which 12 are in Kashmir, while the rest are in Jammu.

This comes days after a political controversy erupted over the demolition of “illegal structures” built in a forest area.

The demolition of the structures, which belonged to Gujjar and Bakerwal communities, had drawn severe criticism from regional political parties, which accused the government of uprooting local residents from their homes.

Quoting sources in the JK administration, a Delhi-based news organisation The Print, said the authorities have retrieved more than 550 hectares of the 15,000 hectares of forest land this year alone.

“These encroachments have been done for over 70 years. The forest land illegally occupied by individuals has been retrieved over the years, but this year the process was sped up. This year alone, we have retrieved more than 550 hectares of forest land,” the report quoted a senior official as having said.

“Under the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, we used to serve eviction notices to occupants under Section 48A and after the implementation of Indian Forest Act, which had to be implemented after the scrapping of Article 370, the notices are being served under Section 79A,” the official told the news organisation.

In Jammu, the report quoting lists said that the highest area of forest land encroached upon is in Jammu region’s Ramban forest division (2,106 hectares), followed by Rajouri division (1,973.9 hectares), Poonch (1,472 hectares) and Shopian (1,026.77 hectares), which is in Kashmir division.

In Pir Panjal (Jammu), the report said, around 655 hectares of forest land have been marked as encroached, 579 in Nowshera (Jammu), 577 in Kashmir’s Kupwara and 499 in Jammu forest division in Jammu region, the report mentioned.

Quoting another official from the JK administration, the report said there were around 200-250 court cases, challenging the eviction notices, adding that ongoing government checks are ongoing that could also settle some of the 63,000 cases.

“The issue is that revenue records do not have entries of forest land, so verification of the forest land is ongoing and it could be that some of the cases would be settled in the future, but for now the forest department, along with revenue and police departments, are vacating the lands,” the official told The Print.

According to the report, the publishing of the lists is a result of a PIL filed in the JK High Court by a Jammu-based non-governmental organisation, Save Animals Value Environment, in 2017.

Quoting its chairperson Rumpy Madaan, the report said NGO had been requesting the administration for 100-kanal land (around 12 acres) to build a pond to take care of stray cattle.

“We had been asking the government to provide us land, which they did not. We filed a PIL in 2017 and the same year the court directed the forest department to provide land to the Jammu Municipal Corporation. However, that did not happen as officials kept on citing encroachment of land by people. Eventually, the court directed authorities to compile a list of encroached land,”  the report quoted Madaan as having said.

“Had we been given land for a cattle pond, this would have not even been revealed. I call this karma,” she added.

 

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