Houses, orchards, vegetable fields coming up on forest land
Shopian: Swathes of forest land are being encroached, apparently in connivance with officials, in Sedow area of the district.
Houses have come up on forest land, trees have been cut, and chunks of land fenced off for vegetable gardens.
Apart from the dozens of local residents who have raised houses on forest land, five families from Rajouri have acquired large chunks of forest land, raised houses and developed apple orchards.
Asked how they took control of the forest land on this scale, the Rajouri families, said the land had been sold to them by a local, Mohammad Syed Bhat, 15 years ago.
Most of the people who have grabbed the forest land in the area say that they have bought it from Bhat.
According to them Bhat is an ex-Sarpanch with influential political connections.
Bhat has himself raised a house on forest land and sowed potatoes on a vast area. Forest officials said that they recently held a fresh demarcation in the area and found it was forest land.
Forest officials said that a Patwari posted in Keegam area of Shopian had also grabbed forest land in the area.
Low rung Forest officials said that they have brought the issue to the notice of divisional forest officer and concerned rangers but no action was initiated by them.
“We approached higher ups several times to initiate action against the law violators but they are sidelining our complaints. We think they are league with the land mafia that is why they are not taking any action against the accused persons,” a field official said.
Earlier the officials from forest protection department admitted that about 85 hectares of forest land has been encroached by the locals in Sedow and Chotipora forests.
The filed officials said that higher officials tell them not to indulge in the matter. Even if they try to initiate action on their own, the land grabber talks about money paid to higher officials, they alleged.
A low rung official said that he felt so much choked that he wants to resign from the job.
Sources in the forest protection department said that even revenue officials were involved in transferring land from forest department to locals.
In Sedow forests one can clearly see that people have fenced their houses and orchards with logs of pine trees which they have cut down to raise the orchards in the first place.
Field officials also cited non-cooperation of police, and alleged that police official ask for money ever they want to lodge an FIR against someone for encroaching forest land.
“From where can we pay the money. If lodging report in police station costs money then that should be given by the department,” an official said.
Meanwhile, compartments V2A, V2B and V2C have been heavily encroached and chopping of green trees is also on rise. Conservator Forests, South Kashmir, Muhammad Shafi told Kashmir Reader that he will depute a team to look into the matter. “I will talk to superintendent of police about lodging cases matter but we will take land back wherever it has been encroached,” Shafi said adding that nobody will be spared.