The Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir Sunday demanded extension of ‘Forest Rights Act-2006’ enacted by Indian Parliament to the state so that they can also have rights on forest lands as are constitutionally available to other scheduled tribes across the country.
The community members raised issue at a discussion programme organised by Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, held in Jammu, on the topic “Rehabilitation of nomadic Gujjars-Bakarwals’ and pleaded the government to follow the other state’s model to settle nomads.
The programme was presided over by Dr Javaid Rahi, Secretary, Tribal Foundations.
“A delegation of tribal community members under the banner of TRCF met the J&K Governor N N Vohra sometimes back and sought his intervention in the matter,” Dr Javaid Rahi informed.
The speakers and experts who attended the programme said that if extended- the Act will give nomads the “title rights” ownership to land which is being cultivated by tribal or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of four hectares with “Use rights” – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
Presently nomadic tribes of state have no rights on the forest lands as no identical law is in force, the speakers said and added that all the states of India except J&K have implemented the Forest Rights Act since 2006.
The Gujjars and Bakerwals constitute 20% of total 125 Lakhs population of the State and a sizeable chunk among them is landless, shelter less and deserves dwelling rights on forest lands which they are using as traditional inhabitants since centuries together, the speakers said.
The speakers further said that if the Forest Right Act is implemented it will give them “relief and development rights” – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection and “forest management rights” – to protect forests and wildlife.
The J&K’s Forest Policy 2010 provide some “Concessions” to nomadic graziers which are not enough for tribal, the speakers said.
The forests are the home of lakhs of nomadic Gujjars-Bakarwals in J&K and their economy is based on forests the speakers said and added that they are to be declared as a forest protector by settling them properly and lawfully.
“The Gujjars have been protecting forests against mafias, land grabbers but as per laws available, protection of forests by persons other then officials is illegal in Jammu and Kashmir which is unjust and against tribal rights, the speakers add.
The speakers impressed upon the J&K government to issue an SRO immediately to extend this Act.