*Only 2840 Ha retrieved against 14345 Ha recorded encroachment
JAMMU, Jan 11: Unbelievable it may sound but it is a fact that Forest Department doesn’t have exact data about encroachments on its land in the length and breadth of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the retrieval of identified encroachments is going on at a snail’s pace and given the present speed it may take not less than half a decade to take back the land from the grabbers.
This came to the fore from the reply of the Minister for Forests, Environment and Ecology given in the Legislative Assembly in response to the main question of BJP MLA from Jammu East Rajesh Gupta and supplementary questions of other Members of the House.
While providing information about the encroachments on the forest land, the Minister for Forests, Ch Lal Singh said, “there are two types of encroachments on the forest land—one is recorded and another is unrecorded”, adding “the encroachments on the forest land which took place after 1986 were not reflected in the records by the Forest Department officials as it was announced at that time that whosoever failed to check the same will lose job”.
“Due to the fear of losing the jobs, the officials of the Forest Department preferred not to record the encroachments and this was the most unfortunate aspect of the plunder of green gold of the State”, the Minister said, adding “now, we are in the process of collecting the details division-wise and hopefully the exact data will be furnished to the House during the current session”.
He informed the House that 14345 hectares of forest land has been shown as recorded encroachment in Jammu and Kashmir and out of this, 2840 hectares has been retrieved from the encroachers during the past three years. The Minister, however, failed to specify any time-frame for retrieval of this entire land.
The data clearly indicates that Forest Department’s eviction drive is going on at snail’s pace. A total of 338.31 hectares was retrieved during 2014-15, 888.92 hectares during 2015-16 and 1612.31 hectares during 2016-17.
Although these figures indicate increase in retrieval of land year after year but given the present pace of eviction drive the Forest Department may take not less than half a decade to take back entire recorded encroachment. But, what would be the fate of unrecorded encroachment remains a million dollar question.
Another testimony of snail’s pace eviction drive is the official data pertaining to Jammu city and its outskirts. The total recorded encroachment on the forest land in Jammu city and outskirts is 243 hectares and only 99.50 hectares has been evicted so far.
Notwithstanding the tall claims about initiating steps to tighten noose around the encroachers, the fresh attempts of encroachments on the forest land are being repeatedly made by the mafia, which indicates that there is no fear of law. In Jammu city and its outskirts, 205 hectares of forest land was freshly encroached by the mafia during a span of two years although the same was evicted by the Forest Department.
Similarly, huge chunk of forest land was freshly encroached by the mafia in different districts of Jammu region against which 2903.65 hectares was retrieved by the Forest Department and action in respect of large portion is yet to be initiated.
Though some Members including MLA from Jammu East wanted to know from the Forest Minister the action being taken against the politicians and other influential persons who have encroached upon the forest land yet the Minister evaded the direct reply. When one of the MLAs from Kashmir valley specifically pointed out encroachment by a former Minister, Ch Lal Singh simply said, “I will have to check the record”.
The vague reply from the Forest Minister was notwithstanding the fact that during the last Budget Session held at Srinagar in May-June 2016, the Minister had in a written reply admitted encroachment by big business houses, bureaucrats and politicians including ex-Ministers and sitting Ministers. He had even identified such encroachers by name and the land under their illegal possession.
Replying to a question regarding allotment of 3000 kanals of forest and other land in outskirts of Jammu to Gujjar-Bakerwal nomads for their permanent settlement, the Minister said, “no such record is coming forth on the basis of which it could be concluded that 3000 kanals of forest and other land was allotted to Gujjar-Bakerwal nomads in 1970s”.