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‘Where will we go’: Nomad Gujjar Bakerwal tribes fear losing livelihood as Admin demolishes structures in forests

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Administration has started demolishing temporary Kaccha houses of Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes in Kashmir’s Pahalgam area.

Gujjars and Barkarwals who stay in Kashmir for six months in the summer season, have already migrated to areas of Jammu leaving behind their temporary structures here.

On Friday a video was shared on a social media platform showing a Gujjar Kotha (temporary structure) being demolished by the forest authorities.

The video has evoked criticism with people asking why the administration has started vandalising these temporary structures of a forest community which has dwelved here since forever.

“I am unable to understand why the Forest Department has started to demolish the Kothas. Neither have we occupied these lands nor do we live there permanently. We live there for 6 months during summers but why is this being done,” Zahid Parwaz Choudhary, President Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar Bakarwal Youth Welfare Conference tweeted, sharing the video from Pahalgam.

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, Choudhary said, “these structures have always been here. The demolition drive that is seen in the video is taking place in the higher reaches of the Mammal area of Pahalgam, in district Anantnag.”

He added that the Gujjars are not living in these Kothas presently because they have migrated to the Jammu region.

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, District Commissioner, Anantnag, K K Sidha said, “it is not demolition of Gujjar Kothas but actually anti-encroachment drives. Till now we have retrieved 700 kannals of land that was encroached and we are submitting a report to the high court also.”

Sidha said they are retrieving all the forest land or government land that has been under “illegal occupation”.

“Nobody is shelter less, these were all abandoned structures and the sole motive of enacting them was only to grab possession of the land. Divisional bench is monitoring the development authority and they have given direction to remove all the unauthorised structures on forest land,” Sidha added.

Choudhary however contests this claim and says that these structures are abandoned in winters because the nomads migrate to the Jammu region in winters every year.

“They will come back in May next year and will find no homes there. How would they feel? Where will they go?” he questioned.

This development follows the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department serving eviction notices to the tribals both in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Roshni Act.

The Roshni Act granted the ownership to the occupants of state land. However, abrogation of the Act has pushed thousands of Gujjar and Bakerwal families to the brink of losing possession of their land.

Together, the communities constitute around 11.9% of the state’s population.

As per the Forest Right Act 2006, traditional forest dwellers are protected against forced displacements and have other rights as well, which include grazing rights, access to water resources and access to forest products except timber.

While the law gets implemented in JK, like other laws after the abrogation of article 370, it seems the administration is violating its own rules.

“The government says that the Forest Right Act is already applicable and has been implemented in Jammu and Kashmir after August 5, and if it is notified here by the government, than these demolitions drives against these poor and underprivileged people are illegal,” Advocate, Shiekh Shakeel Ahmad said.

He said that under the Forest Right Act, schedule tribes have been permitted and allowed to follow their culture and preserve their identity in parts of India and a similar approach should be followed in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Government should have a humane approach towards these people. They have a right to preserve their culture and unique identity. They have not raised permanent structures anywhere but they live in small mud houses just for few months and then migrate to plains in winters. If the government has to carry encroachment drives, they should have first retrieved land under hotels and other concrete structures,” he added.

 

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