Intro: It is hugely divisive in intent, very dangerous and trying to pit one region against the other and one community against the other.
The forest department of Jammu and Kashmir Government headed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, is keen on doing its job of protecting forests, for posterity. Accordingly, it has started taking action against the encroachers in forest lands near the national highway which links Jammu with Srinagar. Not only that, to stop the land sharks and the forest mafia from carrying out their evil designs, it has also started demarcating many encroached areas so that the due legal process is followed. Of course, following the due legal process will lead some day to the evacuation of illegal squatters, and reclaiming the precious forest lands.
This has also started happening in the Jammu city forest areas most of which have been encroached upon, or are being encroached upon, and are being sold illegally, with the forest cover of the temple city shrinking at an alarming pace. In areas like Bhatindi forests, Sunjwan, Raika forests, Chinore forests, Roopnagar and elsewhere, land sharks made hay as the corrupt officials, at the behest of those in power, looked the other way.
All this has started happening under the tough and uncompromising orders of the Forest Minister, Bali Bhagat, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Bhagat is appalled at the sad state of Jammu city forests. Given a choice, and time, he wants the city forests to be restored their pristine glory, after their reclamation first, so that the future generations can live in harmony with the nature.
Constructor becoming Destructor
A Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, comprising Justice M H Attar and Justice Ali Mohammad Magray, has decided to act tough against some engineers responsible for protecting water bodies, and allegedly failing to do so. Some of these engineers have been asked to explain as to why the court should not ask them to deposit Rs 25 lakh each in the treasury for dereliction of their duties.
He has already declared that nobody, however powerful and rich, involved in encroaching forests should be spared. His orders are clear ‘Nobody involved in destroying the forests, including any of his party colleagues, to be spared. Those destroying the forests and environment should not be spared, and all forest lands should be reclaimed’.
In places like Bhaderwah or Banihal, Bani or Basantgarh, Rajouri or Poonch forests, the forest officials have suddenly become active. At some places, where the forest officials have been found to be involved, action is being taken against them. This has sent a clear message that the government means business and will brook no opposition from those committing the illegalities. This is scenario number one as to what is happening to forest land grabbers, and those destroying the green wealth, the green gold as it is also called.
Now, the scenario number two in the Kashmir Valley. The Roads and Buildings (R&B) Minister, Syed Altaf Bukhari, is personally supervising the removal of encroachments in many areas of Srinagar, Anantnag and other districts. Bukhari belongs to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He was witness to the last year’s floods in the state, rather a deluge of gargantuan proportions, which submerged many areas and flooded many others. He saw rich, and poor, suffer alike in the floods, as they looked for succor and it was nowhere as the government then virtually went into a stupor not knowing how to react.
In fact, it so happened that when R&B Minister saw the people suffering on the streets, moving around like virtual beggars with their houses drowned; he opened his house for them. He was not a legislator then but a rich businessman. Without caring for anything else, he mobilised support and ran free kitchens for the destitute, for many days. Today, when he orders the removal of encroachments in any areas, he brooks no opposition and asks the accompanying officials to raze the illegal structures right away.
He asks for removal of encroachments from water channels, encroachments by house owners outside and contiguous to their premises. Bukhari went about this job, accompanied by a retinue of officials, drawn from a host of government departments, in Kashmir at about the same time Bhagat was interacting with the officials of the forest officials in Jammu.
In Jammu, Bhagat knows that the future generations will curse him if he fails to do his duty of protecting the forests all over the state, be they in Jammu, Kashmir or Ladakh. Yes, a beginning has been made from Jammu but the ruthlessly encroached and depleted forests elsewhere will also have to be saved next. The plans for reclaiming and restoring these forests are being made now.
There is no difference in what Bhagat (a BJP minister) and Mr Bukhari (a PDP Minister) have initiated in the Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley, respectively. They will start their work, in right earnest, in other areas of the state also. But here comes the twist in the tale, and a rather unfortunate one. It is hugely divisive in intent, very dangerous and trying to pit one region against the other and one community against the other.
Some organisations, in a clear attempt to protect the interests of the encroachers, are acting as their frontal spokespersons and attempting to vitiate the communal amity for which Jammu has been known for long. In a very dangerous move, aimed at stalling the removal of encroachments, the entire official work of the forest department is being given a deliberate communal tinge.
These organisations are now using the old Roman dictum of ‘Divide et empera’ i.e. ‘Divide and Rule’. They are now seeking to portray Bhagat as communal asking officials to target a particular community. The insinuation is also that the members of the other community, even if found to be involved in the destruction of forests, will not be targeted or the officials have been told not to target them. Obviously, this is far from truth as a good number of officials involved in the reclamation work are drawn from the same community.
It is now clear that some mischievous elements are trying hard to stop Bhagat by leveling patently false charges against him. Retired Inspector General of Police, Farooq Khan, a man who had remained in the vanguard of fight against secessionism all his life, has been constrained to remark that Bhagat is being sought to be stopped by vested interests by deliberately painting him falsely as communal. This is the last resort of the encroachers and those working at their behest.
Why is there no charge being levelled against Bukhari? Because in his case, there is no chance of any allegation of commnalism sticking. It only goes to show how low vested interests can stop for achieving their goals.
Sant Kumar Sharma (The writer is a freelance journalist based in Jammu)