ANANTNAG: Even as Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has called for framing a new forest preservation policy, wildlife officials at Pahalgam are brazenly allowing commercial construction in a protected wildlife zone.
Sources said that some retired bureaucrats had illegally constructed wooden huts in the zone more than a decade ago. And one of them is now building a concrete commercial structure. “All the illegal huts near the spot are made of wood. But a retired babu has started raising a concrete structure within the existing one, trying to give the impression that no construction is going on,” official sources and locals said.
The owner, identified as former Chief Conservator Mir Inayatullah, has reportedly contracted a local Gujjar for the construction and avoids visiting the area himself. “Two young girls supervising the construction don’t allow anyone to come near the spot, leave alone enter the hut,” a group of locals told Kashmir Reader.
The illegal construction, according to locals, is being facilitated by wildlife officials. “Every day we see wildlife officials visiting the spot and spending hours there. When we ask them why they are allowing such construction in a fragile wildlife zone they tell us permission for the construction has been granted by the PDA,” said a local, requesting anonymity. He added that officials, just a month ago, bulldozed a restaurant constructed by a doctor in the wildlife zone near Aru, but are facilitating the construction by this former babu.
A wildlife official posted in the area said they had gone to stop the construction on Friday, but “some girls did not allow them” to enter the hut. At the same time, he revealed that his department ‘has its own weakness’ in taking action. “Many wildlife and forest officials have been recruited by the person to whom this hut belongs. So, there is a reluctance on halting the construction,” the official said.
Wildlife warden Mohammad Yusuf Mir, some days ago, first expressed his ignorance on the issue. “I have no idea about any such construction and will check it out,” he had said. Then, on Saturday, he claimed that permission for the construction had been granted by the PDA, and that only “minor repairs” were being carried out by the owner.
On his part, Chief Executive Officer PDA Riyaz Wani said he would first identify the location of this construction activity. “Send me the pictures of the construction work, so that I can identify the location and go for demolition of the same (sic),” he told Kashmir Reader.
Minister of State for Forests Abdul Majid Paddar claimed he would take action on the issue and said he would summon all the officials posted in the area: “I will seek an explanation from them on such construction in a fragile wildlife zone. I promise you if any official is involved in facilitating the construction, he will be taken to task.”