Many ex-Ministers, politicians, Govt officials, relatives among encroachers of forest land

Names of several VIP violators not clearly mentioned in lists
*All eyes on Action Plan for removal of encroachments

Mohinder Verma

JAMMU, Oct 21: Several ex-Ministers, politicians, police officers and other Government servants along with their close relatives are among the influential encroachers of the forest land in the length and breadth of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, Forest Department has not clearly mentioned names of all the VIP violators in the lists furnished to the High Court.
Now, all the eyes are on the Action Plan for removal of encroachments, which the Forest Department is supposed to place before the High Court tomorrow in pursuance to the directions issued on September 21, 2020 in a Public Interest Litigation titled Save Animals Value Environment (SAVE) Versus Jammu and Kashmir and Others.
The perusal of list of encroachments made in Jammu Forest Division only reveals that several close relatives of two former Union Ministers have encroached upon huge chunk of forest land in Bahu Range and constructed concrete structures over the same.
Similarly, a doctor, who happens to be the close relative of a senior politician, has also not spared the forest land and made huge encroachment. Likewise, the close relatives of a former Minister of State for Home have constructed three huge concrete structures along with brushwood fencing on vast chunk of forest land in Bahu Range.
What to talk of politicians and their close relatives even Personal Security Officer (PSO) of a former Cabinet Minister of erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir has made encroachments on the forest land in Bahu area at two different places and this clearly reveals that all out efforts were made in the past to grab the forest land without any fear of law.
Similarly, there is a long list of ex-Ministers, politicians, civil and police administration officers and their close relatives who have encroached forest land in other forest divisions of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. However, the Forest Department has not clearly mentioned the names of the VIP encroachers just to shield them.
The names of top VIP encroachers are likely to be revealed before the Division Bench of the High Court tomorrow when the Public Interest Litigation will come up for hearing as per the direction dated October 16, 2020.
On September 21, 2020, the High Court had repeatedly asked the Advocate General and Deputy Advocate General to point out the VIP encroachers from the lists furnished by the Forest Department. However, they submitted that this exercise will take some time as the report is voluminous.
Accordingly, the DB had asked Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed appearing for the Public Interest Litigation to do the similar exercise and inform the court on next date of hearing about the VIP encroachers as well as on whether correct particulars of the encroachers have been recorded or somebody else’s names have been recorded to shield the VIP encroachers.
Now, all the eyes are on the Action Plan for removal of encroachments as the Division Bench on September 21, 2020 had directed the Forest Department to inform the court about the strategy being chalked or already in place in this regard. Moreover, on October 7, 2020, the Division Bench had directed the Forest Department to also file a report giving the action taken to retrieve the land from 50 largest encroachers (in terms of size of land encroached).
As per the lists furnished by the Forest Department to the High Court, over 64,000 persons have encroached around 3.5 lakh kanals of forest land in all the Forest Divisions in the Jammu and Kashmir.
The lists reveal that 6583 persons have encroached 1496 hectares of land in Anantnag Forest Division, 144 hectares by 604 persons in Awantipora, 157 hectares by 1062 persons in Bandipore, 189 hectares by 938 persons in Basohli, 253 hectares by 835 persons in Batote, 159 hectares by 959 persons in Bhaderwah, 237 hectares by 541 persons in Billawar, 232 hectares by 899 persons in Doda, 499 hectares by 704 persons in Jammu, 415 hectares by 1586 persons in Baramulla, 52 hectares by 104 persons in Kathua, 550 hectares in Kralpora, 39 hectares in Kishtwar, 355 hectares by 1399 persons in Kulgam, 595 hectares by 2632 persons in Langate, 368 hectares by 2496 persons in Lidder, 225 hectares by 103 persons in Mahore, 3 hectares by 15 persons in Marwah, 579 hectares by 1225 persons in Nowshera, 655 hectares by 3160 persons in Pir Panjal Forest Division, 1472 hectares by 29458 persons in Poonch, 197 hectares by 602 persons in Rajouri, 2106 hectares by 3370 persons in Ramban, 316 hectares by 335 persons in Ramnagar, 319 hectares by 651 persons in Reasi, 52 hectares by 11 persons in Samba, 1026 hectares by 3882 persons in Shopian, 463 hectares by 2312 persons in Sindh Forest Division, 16 hectares by 121 persons in Tangmarg and 9 hectares by 302 persons in Udhampur.