Jammu: Under fire for failure to stop massive grabbing of thousands of acres of forest land in the lower Shivalik range here, Jammu and Kashmir government has set up a demarcation committee for cracking down on the “heavyweight encroachers”.
As per the forest department, 14,345 hectares of forest land had been encroached upon with 9,463.39 hectares in Jammu and 4877.62 hectares in Kashmir.
“We are going on offensive against the encroachers of forest lands in a big way. We will start from top and heavy weight land grabbers in Jammu. We will not spare anyone”, State Forest Minister Bali Bhagat told PTI here today. The Forest Minister assured that a committee has been set up and demarcation process is going on. “I have instructed them to start from heavy weight and influential people,” he said.
There have been reports of massive encroachment of forest land by influential people in Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika and Sidhra areas in Jammu district during the last two decades and huge forest lands were grabbed and sold by the politically influential to those wanting to set up colonies. A five member panel headed by the Chief Conservator of Forests, Jammu would deal with the encroachment and eviction of forest lands in Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika and Sidhra areas in Jammu.
“Sanction is hereby accorded to the constitution of following Committee headed by the Chief Conservator of Forests, (S&D), J&K, Jammu to conduct the demarcation of the identified disputed locations in the context of J&K Forest (Conservation) Act 1997”, Commissioner-Secretary to the Government, General Administration Department (GAD), M A Bukhari said in a government order. The members of panel include Divisional Forest Officer;
Regional Director, Survey & Land Records; Divisional Forest Officer, Demarcation; Director, Land Management and Jammu Development Authority.
Bukhari said that the panel would ascertain the status of land and delineation of forest land from others to avoid the encroachments on the forest land.
“It will get the demarcation conducted on the identified locations and finalize its report and recommendations within a period of two months”, he said.
Expressing concern over the encroachments of forest lands, the Forest minister said,
“Even the record of the these forest lands seems to have been destroyed. This is serious thing. This is deliberate and there might be involvement of political class.”
The state Forest Minister reiterated the commitment of the government in retrieving back the encroached forest land and said that the forest department has fixed a target of retrieving 5,000 hectares by March 2016. The directions have been conveyed to the officers to check the smuggling of timber in the area, he added.
“To generate more revenue by the forest department collection centres for minor forest produce, establishment of furniture and forest industry etc are in offing”, he added. The government has issued notices to 90 people to vacate 1,792.65 hectares of encroached forest land in Poonch district of the state.
“Around nine acres of forest land have been retrieved from 19 people since 2010 and 35 such cases are pending before the court of law,” he said.
“533.40 hectares of forest land is under encroachment in Poonch Haveli followed by 685 hectares in Mendhar tehsil and 574.25 hectares in Surankote tehsil of the district,” Bhagat said.
The minister said that retrieving encroached land is the mission of the Government and directed Conservator of Forest to ensure the demarcation of forest land besides starting the process of the evictions as per Forest Act. Several colonies have come-up illegally in encroached forest lands in Sidhra, Nagorta, Bhatindi, Bajalta, Raika Sunjwan and Chowadi belts lower Shavaliks in Jammu city.
“Jammu city, which had a huge cover of the famous Shivalik and Lower Shivaliks forest ranges has been destroyed and massively encroached slowly during two decades of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir”, said Advocate Chander Mohan Sharma, an environmental activist and social worker. Sharma, who heads the ‘River Tawi Bachao Abhiyaan' campaign welcomed the initiative taken by the J&K government.
“We welcome the steps taken by the J&K government Forest Minister in particular to evict encroachers in the lower Shivalik range after demarcation,” he said. “These forests were pride to Jammu people. But now it has been encroached. All those involved should be punished. All constructions along the banks of River Tawi should be banned. We have requested the Forest minister in this regard”, Sharma said.
The activist had also called for probe into the destruction of the record of the said forest lands by influential people.
The total forest area of Jammu and Kashmir is 20,230 square kilometres.