Shopian: Illegal encroachments continue unchecked in compartment number six of forest division Hirpora, inside the wildlife sanctuary, as the wildlife department refuses to take control of the land.
This “compartment”, comprising hundreds of kanals of forest land and part of the Hirpora wildlife sanctuary, has been under the forest department’s administrative control but notified for the wildlife department.
Sources in both the forest and the wildlife department admitted that encroachments have taken place both recently and years ago where a large chunk of this forest land was occupied by nearby locals and those who own land alongside the forest boundary. According to wildlife officials, the presence of habitations along the forest boundary is among the reasons that the said area has not been taken over by the wildlife department.
Local sources in Hirpora told Kashmir Reader that fresh encroachments have been made by influential people. They said that shrinking of forest land is taking place in broad daylight.
Divisional Forest Officer Shopian, Muhammad Ayoub Sheikh, told Kashmir Reader that there are no fresh encroachments but a few people did make encroachments last year, but were dealt with according to law.
“Some people last year after abrogation of Article 370 raised structures and encroached on the forest land. We have already lodged cases against them and with the help of police some structures were razed down,” he said.
When asked why the compartment number six has not been handed over to the wildlife department despite being technically a part of the wildlife sanctuary, he said that the officials there don’t take it over even though they have been approached officially by the forest department several times
Divisional Wildlife Warden Shopian, Intisar Suhail, told Kashmir Reader that encroachments are among the reasons why the department has not taken over the said area.
“At the time it was inducted in the wildlife sanctuary, this land was not handed over to the wildlife department,” he said, adding that an assessment is needed to take over this area now.
He said that from very beginning there have been encroachments and farming inside the sanctuary area. “For the past two decades it has been maintained as a forest area but not wildlife area. Only after assessment of all things and feasibility can it be taken over by the wildlife department,” he said.
The Hirpora wildlife sanctuary is spread on around 341 square kilometers of land, and is the habitat of endangered species Markhor, rare herbs, migratory birds, besides its green cover and water resources.
In the last two decades this sanctuary has become the worst victim of encroachments, construction of Mughal Road, laying of power lines, and livestock grazing. The number of animals and birds has reduced while the plunder of green gold goes on unabated.