Srinagar, Dec 8: J&K Forest Rights Coalition (JKFRC) today put forth several demands concerning the Forest Rights while stating that there is no ground level in accordance with the Forest Rights Act.
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Addressing a press conference, Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Founder of JKFRC said that the Forest Rights Act is crucial to the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers in J&K as it provides for the restitution of deprived forest rights, including both individual rights to cultivated land in forestland and community rights over common property resources.
However, he said, issues on the ground like eviction drives are continuing, which he said is a brazen violation of court orders and FRA.
He said that the Forest Department has raised closures at many places, when people try to raise voices against the practice, “they are being silenced and harassed by lodging FIRs against them, which should immediately stop.”
JKFRC said that in mid-November 2020, the Government invoked Forest Act and began issuing eviction notices to Gujjars, Tribals, and other traditional forest-dwellers, and as many as 63000 eviction notices were issued.
“Some Gujjar huts in villages that are close to forests were also demolished. Those families who have lived there for generations are being evicted,” it said.
Zahid Parvaz Choudhary, who is the Convenor of JKFRC said the law is for the forest dwellers as forest belongs to them, “however when it comes to filing claims – both individual and collective, forest dwellers feel left out, as Gram Sabhas are left with no power to decide and implement,” he said
JKFRC demanded that the Forest Department should stop harassing Gujjars, Bakarwals and other forest dwellers.
“To implement the law, people, as well as officials, need to be trained, however, training has been facilitated for the officials only, leaving behind masses in gross ignorance and confusion,” it said.
It also said that the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC), District Level Committees should be democratically elected and not be nominated. “No one can be labelled as an encroacher unless forest rights are settled,” it said.