Jammu, Feb 28 (IANS) Former PDP legislator Qamar Hussain Choudhary on Friday decried the delay in applying the Forest Rights Act in Jammu and Kashmir, saying the tribal population and traditional forest dwellers are facing immense hardships and persecution in the absence of legal safeguards.
Addressing a meeting of leaders of tribal groups and forest dwellers at Jammu, Choudhary observed that non applicability of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 in Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370 is unjustifiable and without any rationale.
“The Forest Rights Act would not only protect tribal population and other forest dwellers against forced displacements, eviction but will ensure their other rights as well, which include grazing rights, access to water resources and access to forest products,” the former legislator observed.
He said a wrong notion is being established about the Forest Rights Act that its applicability would result in some imaginary demographic changes in some regions of Jammu division which is totally tenuous and baseless.
“It is disheartening that a narrative is being built that tribal people are land grabbers, forest encroachers and cattle smugglers. This is a concocted notion being created by those who oppose enactment of Forest Rights Act in J&K. The Central government should fulfil its commitment with the tribal and socio-economically marginalised forest dwellers and enforce the Forest Rights Act in J&K without any further delay,” he said.
Choudhary said that it is regrettable that Jammu and Kashmir tribal and forest dwellers are still awaiting legal safeguards against enforced persecution despite the fact that the Forest Rights Act has been made applicable across the country 13 years ago.
Choudhary remarked that the applicability of the Forest Rights Act not only gives forest dwellers and the tribal community legal ownership of their traditional land and community rights but also recognition to over a million people who live in mountainous areas where they depend heavily upon livestock rearing and small-scale agriculture.
“Gujjar-Bakarwals, the nomads and the pastoralists are suffering enormously. Over the years, many pastures have remained out of bounds for nomads because of armed conflict in Kashmir. And the erstwhile state forest laws would only give them grazing rights. In the past many years, many eviction drives were carried out in some areas of Jammu city. The tribal and forest dwellers crave for a sense of security against this hostile atmosphere and the best way to help them out is to enact the Forest Rights Act in J&K,” he said.
He said the Forest Rights Act recognizes the services of Gujjars, Bakerwals and tribal people as instrumental in protecting forests against timber smugglers and land grabbers and respects their right to have access to forest land and forest produce except timber.