Nomadic Gujjars seek rights over forests in Kashmir

November 10th, 2009 - 2:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Jammu, Nov 10 (IANS) The nomadic Gujjar community of Jammu and Kashmir has sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention to accord them rights to forests, similar to those given to other Scheduled Tribes in other Indian states.
The Gujjars, through the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, have appealed to the prime minister to extend the Forest Rights Act 2006 to Jammu and Kashmir as well.

Javed Rahi, national secretary of the foundation that works for the welfare of Gujjars, told IANS that 95 percent of the “nomadic Gujjars” in Jammu and Kashmir were “landless, shelter-less and deserve dwelling rights on forest lands” that they have traditionally inhabited for centuries.

Rahi said that under the provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006, tribals get ownership rights on forest land.

“They can use forest for their livelihood and cultivation,” he said.

The act, passed in 2006, was not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir due to Article 370 that grants special status to the state.

The act grants four types of rights — title rights that grant ownership to land being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of four hectares; rights to use minor forest produce, grazing areas and pastoral routes; relief and development rights, which include rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities subject to restrictions for forest protection; and forest management right.

The foundation, in its letter to Manmohan Singh, says that “the equitable growth of country and state cannot be achieved without guaranteeing the legitimate rights to hitherto marginalised and isolated sections of our society, mainly the Gujjars of the state who constitute more than 85 percent” of Jammu and Kashmir’s total tribal population.

Nomadic Gujjars form 20 percent of the over 11 million population of the state.

Rahi observed that the implementation of this act in the state would have a positive impact on its economy while addressing “historical injustice committed against Gujjars - the major dwellers and conservators of forests”.

He pointed out that the forests were home to thousands of nomadic Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir and they should be “declared as forest protectors by settling them properly and lawfully”.

Said Mian Altaf Ahmad, the state’s forest minister who is also a Gujjar: “We are looking into the matter judiciously.”

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