BY JAVAID AHMAD DAR
Recent outrage through media, print, electronic and other social networking sites by empathisers of forest dwellers and tribal population of Jammu and Kashmir when District Development Council, by-poll Panchayat, and Urban Local bodies elections were in full swing, Government officials dismantled the hutments of tribals in Pahalgam, and Kathua which were illegally constructed and chopped down almost 10000 apple trees in different areas of Budgam District encroached on forest land. In different Districts concerned forest officers served show cause notices to different stakeholders who have grabbed forest land. These notices were served under Sub section (1) of Section 79-A of Indian Forest Act-1927 (Penalty for un-authorizedly taking possession of Land constituted as reserved or protected forests). This step of Government gave an opportunity to every political party to bank upon for canvass. This uproar probably chilled the spine of Lieutenant Governors administration to implement Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006.
Forest Rights Act 2006 and Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory: –
Forest Biodiversity in Jammu and Kashmir demand special attention in terms of conservation and sustainable development, an issue that has now started receiving increasing attention among all the stake holders. These forested areas being largely in habited by very traditional societies; they include not only a vast section of ethnic groups who are politically categorized as “tribal’s” so as to confer upon them special benefits and privileges as a distinctly under- privileged section of Jammu and Kashmir population.
These communities obviously are to be seen as having an important role to play in conserving the rich biodiversity for which they are truly the custodians these communities utilize the forest products, not only the wood/timber but other non-wood forest products for a variety of purposes, forest grazing of livestock by Gujjars, Bakerwals, Changpas and Chopans from centuries. The intensification of these uses during recent times has resulted in extensive damage to the ecological balance, degradation of forest tree cover, domination of weedy species including invasive exotics are the major problems of the region.
Conserving this biodiversity is becoming a critical issue also arising from the realization that biodiversity has a key role to play towards coping up with ever increasing environmental uncertainties linked with global change in a ecological sense.
Joint forest management initiative and traditional ecological knowledge is better to manage these ecosystems to meet the livelihood and food security needs of forest based communities. Arriving at generalizable principles that would contribute towards conserving the rich forest biodiversity, that could cut across diverse social, cultural, economic and ecological situations that we are confronted with is indeed a challenge that is difficult but not insurmountable.
Government does not have, but the Gram sabhas hold the entire power under the forest act. Gram sabhas of the villages having forest as land use or in the fringes of forest whose inhabitants use forest for their livelihood. Their roles and functions under the schedule tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognitation of forest rights) Act 2006, and various related orders and circulars of the Ministry of tribal affairs and Ministry of Environment and Forests are as-
Identify and constitute villages, hamlets or habitations, unrecorded or unsurveyed settlement or forest villages or taungya, which are not part of any revenue or forest village.
Determine rights – Gram sabha are the authorities under the act to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual and community rights on all forest lands which are any area recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of ownership, constituting forest rights committee (FRC), community forest resource, conversion of forest villages in to revenue villages, all these are the decisions of Gram sabha.
Establishment of public facilities-the Gram sabha is the authority to determine and recommend diversion of forest land for establishment of thirteen different types of public facilities in the village. The land that can be diverted shall be up to 1 hectare per project and involving felling of a maximum of 75 trees per acre.
Protection, conservation and management of forests- Gram sabhas are empowered to –protect the wild life, forest, biodiversity, adjoining catchment areas, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas, habitats from any destructive practices.
-regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activities which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are compiled with.
Inviolate areas and resettlement- Gram sabha is to give free informed consent, in writing on the proposed settlement package.
Action against offences-Gram sabha is to pass
a resolution against any authority and give notice to State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC)giving them 60 days’ notice to proceed against the official found to be violating any provision of the forest act and its rules which is an offence.
Diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes-when the state government intends to divert forest land for non-forest activities, the concerned Gram sabhas where the proposed forest lands are located are to receive full details of the project and its implications in vernacular or local language. Alas! The ground reality has other tale to tell these 81315 custodians of forests as per Forest Rights Act (FRA )2006 are turned into choppers by clearing the forest cover for their personal benefits.” I think FRA is being portrayed as a shield for forest encroachers” said Manzoor Abdullah a local journalist.
Committee on Forest Encroachments: –
In pursuance to the directions of Honourable High Court, the Government of Jammu Kashmir issued Govt. Order 876-JK(GAD) of 2020 dated 19-09-2020 for constitution of a committee for deciding complaints pertaining to the encroachment of forest land/property. This order was issued in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) No.25/2017 CM No.1456/020 I.A Nos.1/2017 and 2/2017 titled SAVE (Save Animal Value Environment) VS UT of J&K and others, filed in Honourable High Court of J&K regarding encroachment of Forest land . As per the order the terms of reference of committee are – to ensure creation of a dedicated website, to decide all complaints received by it, after notice to the complainant and alleged encroacher, within one month of the receipt of complaint, extendable to two months for reasons to be recorded; to serve notices to complainants at the address disclosed in the complaint; to accord hearing by the committee using the e-mode; to communicate proceedings and orders passed by the committee to the parties and posting these on its website; to ensure widespread publicity of the constitution of this committee and its activities.
According to the data a total of 14,384.4906 hectares which is equal to 284,281.379162 kanals of forest land has been encroached by those people who are dwelling in forests, residing in the vicinity of forests or by those who have commercialized forests for construction of Hotels ,and cleared forest cover for the road leading to their Hotels at prime tourist destination sites like Gulmarg, Patnitop et cetra., Construction of concrete Pacca houses, Kaccha houses, Horticultural, Agricultural and grass land purposes.
Framing of forest rights committees:
Recently Government has taken an initiative to frame Forest rights committees in every Gram Sabha and false information is being spread among the common masses about Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, that if forest dwellers and other traditional forest communities make claims on forest land Government will transfer its property rights to them ,they can then cultivate or replace coniferous tree cover by orchards for that purpose bark of tallest coniferous trees is peel off so that their needle like leaves can wither and trees become dead, then it can be used for fuel or timber purposes, these activities were done by forest timber smugglers and encroachers under the nose of forest officials. If a dweller residing near forest possess 20 kanals of milkayat land, how can he/she justify to claim 30 kanals of forest land for construction of house, hotel or orchard.
Forests are the lungs of this planet purifying the air and providing energy, once destroyed the forest never comes back; even if it does, it may take hundreds of years to get a mature climax forest. In the present mad rat race Homo sapiens (Scientific name of Man) wise creature on this blue planet, his greed, un-quenching thrust has shattered the delicate balance of ecosystems resulting in vanishing of biodiversity. Population pressure and poverty are also equally responsible. Tribal population pose a million-dollar question if our dwelling places are illegal what about Hotels and shopping complexes constructed at prime tourist destination sites? The disproportionate assets/ wealth accumulated by forest officials should be probed by investigating agencies. What is the use of a house if you don’t have a planet to put it on…..?
The author is Lecturer Botany at Government Higher Secondary School Pakhar Pora and can be emailed at email@example.com