Mehbooba Mufti
Mehbooba Mufti

SRINAGAR — People’s Democratic Party president, Mehbooba Mufti on Monday said that government was “pushing” Gujjar and Bakarwal community to take extreme steps.

She said this while visiting Gujjars and Bakarwals in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam area where authorities have launched an eviction drive.

“Gujjar and Bakarwal people have always opted for peace and never for the violence. They are being illegally evicted from here. They have been living on this land since years but are being deliberately targeted for being Muslims,” Mehbooba said.

“Where will they go amid intense cold? Government wants to settle outsiders here and remove these people whose ancestors lived here for decades. By such steps, government is pushing Gujjar and Bakarwal community to take some extreme steps,” she claimed.

She warned the government of serious consequences if they don’t stop “harassing” nomads.

“24,000 kanals of land has already been given to industrialists. Whom you want to give this land to,” she asked.

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Gujjars have been seeking implementation of Forest Rights Act in J&K so that they can enjoy rights on forest land.

On December 18, 2006, Parliament passed Forest Rights Act – 2006 whereby the Schedule Tribe and other traditional forest dwellers were entitled to have rights on forest land and other resources.

The Act could not be implemented as Jammu and Kashmir had Article 370 owing to which Central laws were not being directly implemented in the erstwhile State.

Tribal and forest dwellers have been demanding extension of the Act to J&K so that they too can enjoy “rights” on the forest land.

For the last few weeks, Wildlife Department, Forest Department, Pahalgam Development Authority have served hundreds of eviction notices to people which they claim were illegally residing there.

Hundreds of people especially Gujjars and Bakarwals have received eviction notices for the last two weeks, citing “illegal encroachment” of the land.

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Under this Act, forest dwellers can cultivate land to a maximum of four hectares and have rights on the minor forest produce.

Former PDP legislator, Qamar Hussain, had moved a bill to the Assembly, seeking implementation of the Forest Right Act. However, the BJP had opposed the bill.

Wildlife Warden, Pahalgam, Raouf Zargar said they are retrieving land which has been illegally encroached over the years. “Some people including Gujjars had encroached upon forest land. We removed the encroachments. We did delimitation in Pahalgam to identify our land then removed these illegal encroachments,” he said.

“We evicted around 190 kanals of land in Mamal, Aru area and will continue this drive. Forest, Wildlife Departments also retrieved their land,” he said.

SDM Pahalgam, Bashir Ahmad said they have retrieved hundreds of kanals of land from encroachers in Pahalgam.

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