After controversial demarcation, land allotted to parties, police swoops on forest officials
Shopian: A major chunk of forestland has been illegally distributed among a local resident and a state department by the district authorities in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. The forest department employees alleged that raising objections to the illegal order landed them in police custody. They blamed the district administration for the fraud and brazen violation of high court orders.
Officials from the forest department said that the district administration allotted a plot of 20 Kanals of forest land to tourism department at Padpawan while as a local resident identified as Ghulam Mohiuddin Chichi was allowed to occupy 14 Kanals of forestland at Chotipora village. Chichi has raised a house inside the forestland.
Range officer Shopian, Syed Muhammad Shafi confirmed to Kashmir Reader that Chichi has occupied 14 kanals of forestland and has raised a structure on it. The occupation occurred despite high court’s direction to the deputy commissioner Shopian to hold fresh demarcation of the said land and hand over the possession of the land to the original owner (i.e. forest department). “The deputy commissioner without consulting the forest department gave the ownership of said land to Chichi in violation of forest conservation act 1997,” Shafi said. He said that the forest department officials went to Chotipora for spot verification but police intervened there and arrested forest officials including the range officer.
“Police intervened and arrested me including my other officers. We were taken to police station Hirpora,” he said and alleged that Chichi has axed several kiker trees in the forestland.
Divisional Forest Officer, Manzoor Ahmad said that the high court has asked the deputy commissioner to demarcate the forestland and verify the ownership claims of a local resident.
At Padpawan village on Mughal road, the deputy commissioner has ordered allotment of more than 20 Kanals of land to tourism department. The deputy commissioner’s order on transfer of land to tourism department says that in 2017 the office had ordered Tehsildar Shopian to identify 20 kanals of land for tourism purposes and later they said Tehsildar identified 20 Kanals of land at Padpawan. Even as the revenue officials declared the chunk of land as ‘state land’, the forest department says that it holds the ownership of the land.
“’We brought this issue before the higher authorities of forest department but deputy commissioner ordered the raising of tourism structure without the consent of forest department,” Manzoor said.
The documents provided by the forest department reveal that both chunks of land belong to the department of forests but the deputy commissioner’s office illegally allotted it to said person and department.
On its part, the deputy commissioner’s office has declared that the land was found to be ‘state land’ after the demarcation was conducted. The forest department has rejected the demarcation claim saying no demarcation was done in consultation with the forest department, a pre-requisite for such an exercise.
“We have fenced the area long time ago under forest land but unfortunately the administration illegally and forcibly gave that land to tourism department and a private person,” Divisional Forest officer said.
“We have raised this issue with executive officer and are awaiting their response. “We tried all legal measures to save the forest land but failed due to the intervention of deputy commissioner and police,” he admitted.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Kashmir, Ravi Kumar Kesar told Kashmir Reader that he was not aware of the fiasco. “I am on Rakshabandan vacations at home. Let me join duties and I will check the status of this matter,” he said.
Minister of state for forests Zahoor Ahmad Mir said that he would look into the matter. “No one would be allowed to occupy forest land, be it the officials or the civilians,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Shopian, Muhammad Aijaz didn’t reply to the multiple phone calls and text messages of this reporter.