SRINAGAR: On April 28th, Panchayat Halqa Mujpathri-Khansaheb made history by organizing the first Gram Sabha on Community Forest Rights under the Forest Rights Act 2006. This event was a significant step towards community-led conservation and sustainable tourism in Jammu and Kashmir.
The event was facilitated by J&K Forest Rights Coalition (FRC), and a large turnout of residents participated in the historical gathering. During the Gram Sabha, a detailed resolution was read and passed by the Forest Rights Committee, Panchayat, and Gram Sabha members with unanimous approval. The resolution declared 1000 square kilometers of forest land as Community Forest, stretching from Sochal-pathri to Nurpurgali, Khaal-Katt to Burgah, Zeskhal to Eid (lidermatt).
The resolution also mandated the panchayat to ensure conservation of forests and mountains, as well as the sustainable use of minor forest produce and forest foods. This move by Mujh Pathri to declare such a large area as a community forest is commendable, and it is hoped that this will serve as an inspiration for other communities and governments to follow suit in promoting community-led forest management and conservation.
Notably, Mujh Pathri panchayat is the first panchayat to lead community conservation, community-based tourism, and afforestation under the leadership of J&K-FRC and its activists. The Gram Sabha also resolved that the first beneficiaries of Doodhpathri tourism would be residents of Rayiar, Mujh Pathri, Gurweit, and BassantWoeder.
The resolution stressed the importance of maintaining the carrying capacity of Doodhpathri during tourism and opposed mass and irresponsible tourism. It also prohibited the use of packed food, polythene, liquor, and narcotic drugs. Furthermore, the Panchayat pledged to monitor anti-environmental development in eco-sensitive areas. The resolution was supported by the Panchayats of Gurwaith, Rayiar, Beeru, RayiarKeich, Check Shaira, and Drager, respectively.
The founder of the J&K Forest Rights Coalition, Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Secretary Peer Ghulam Mohiuddin, and Convener Zahid Parwaz Choudhary coordinated the Gram Sabha procedures under the Forest Rights Act 2006. This historical event marks a significant step towards community-led conservation and sustainable tourism in Jammu and Kashmir.
Community forests are forest lands managed and governed by the local communities who use them for their livelihoods, traditional practices, and cultural activities. This approach not only empowers the communities but also helps in conserving the forest ecosystem, reducing deforestation, and promoting biodiversity. The recognition of community forests as a legitimate land-use category is an important development in the realm of forest governance and management.
The declaration of 1000 sq. km of forest land as a community forest during the First Historical Gram Sabha at Mujh Pathri marks a significant step towards sustainable and community-led forest management. It is hoped that this will serve as a model for other regions and communities in promoting community-led forest management and conservation.