The Jammu and Kashmir Administration is all set to implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) by March 1, 2021, as reported by The Indian Express. This 2006 law was not applicable in J&K over the last 14 years and can now be enforced after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India.
A statement released by the J&K administration, accessed by Scroll, reads, “It may be pointed out that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country. This Central Act was, however, not applicable or implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 14 years. It became applicable to J&K only after October 31, 2019, hence, recognising the rights of forest dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory.”
In a meeting held on November 18, the Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam directed the forest department to immediately constitute a four-tiered structure that would entail committees at the levels of the state, district and sub-division, besides a Forest Rights Committee for implementation purposes.
The meeting also decided that the survey of claimants would be completed by January 15, 2021, followed by the sub committee’s scrutiny into the claims and preparation of the record of forest rights by or before January 31. District Level Committees will then consider and approve the record, granting forest rights by March 1, 2021.
Tribal leaders had been demanding for the enforcement of Forest Rights Act in Kashmir following the eviction of several nomads in the State. But the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir prevented the Government from implementing this Central Act. Over the years, several eviction drives have been carried out against Tribals in parts of the State on ground of illegal encroachment. Greater Kashmir reported that the eviction and reported demolition of Kothas (kuchha houses) in some Muslim- dominated areas of Jammu including Kalakote, Shidhra, Bathandi was done following an order by the General Administration Department.
In January 2020, the President of Gujjar United Front, Anwar Choudhary told The Wire, “when it comes to acting on laws which are against us, they are implemented right-away, but not the laws which are essential for the survival of tribal population. In Vijaypur village of Samba district, over 200 Gujjar families have been driven away without any compensation or resettlement. Who will listen to us?”
Impact on Forest Dwellers
Now, with the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, their right to forest land and resources can no longer be appropriated by Forest or other State actors.
Integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem, the forest dwelling communities, who have been carrying the baggage of being labelled as encroachers or land grabbers, can no longer be denied their right to access forest land for the purpose of habitation, self-cultivation, and livelihood.
“However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferable”, the administration spokesperson has clarified.
This development comes days after Peoples Democratic Party President and former Jammu & Kashmir, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti lashed out at the Centre for driving out Muslim Gujjars and Bakarwals from their pastures in forest areas, reported The Indian Express.
The PDP President claimed that this was a witch hunt against the Muslim Forest Dwelling Tribes and a part of the “process of disempowerment and displacement that started with the abrogation of J&K’s special status”. However, the Anantnag district administration claims that it is a case of illegal occupation of forest land.
With the onset of this recognition process promised by the Government, one hopes that these Tribes are empowered to govern forest resources and the law permits the democratisation of such governance by protecting their rights.
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