Srinagar: Gujjars and Bakarwals have heaved a sigh of relief after Jammu and Kashmir government decided to implement the Forest Rights Act in the union territory.
On Wednesday, Jammu and Kashmir administration announced that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 will be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir.
Forest Rights Act of 2006 grants 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, recognizing the rights of forest-dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory.
Gujjars and Bakarwals have welcomed the step saying it will give the rights to tribals over forest land for habitation and livelihood.
“Gujjars and Bakarwals, who dwell in forests, have suffered enough due to the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Since the government has formally started the process for the implementation of this act, we welcome it wholeheartedly,” said Chaudhary Iqbal Phambra, a Gujjar and Bakarwal leader from Manjalkote Udhampur.
He said a major proportion of the Gujjar and Bakarwal population couldn’t settle in the forests due to the non-implementation of this act.
“We were often not allowed to enter forests. Our livelihood was getting affected. In winters, we had to spend huge money on procuring fodder for animals. Now it is to be seen whether this act is implemented permanently,” Phambra said.
Earlier last week, several Gujjar and Bakarwal shelters were razed by the administration during a demolition drive in the Pahalgam area of Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
Terming implementation of the Forest Right Act a big decision, Founder of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation Dr. Javid Rahi said it will empower the nomadic Gujjars and Bakarwals.
“A four-tier committee has been constituted to settle the claims of tribals. It will give Gujjars and Bakarwals rights over pastures. We welcome this step. It shows the government is serious about rehabilitating tribals,” he said.
Rahi said the majority of issues of tribals will get solved with the implementation of this act. “Tribals had no permanent shelter and now we hope their all problems will end,” he said.
As per the 2011 census, nearly 1.5 million Gujjars and Bakarwals live in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, which comes to around 11.9% of the region’s total population. Nearly 810,800 Gujjar and Bakarwals reside in Jammu alone. The other nomadic herders in the state include Gaddis and the Sippis who too have been demanding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.