A recent unwelcomed proposal is that of Jammu And Kashmir’s Administration which sought expeditious permission to build a new court complex inside the Raika Forest which is a conservative forest.
Several conservative activists and environmentalists have raised their anguish over the new proposal claiming that the State Administration is intending to destroy a forest which is widely known as the “lungs of Jammu”.
Satyam Arora, a law graduate from Jammu, had tried all the possible ways to prevent the commencement of the construction work but in vain. From his initial pleadings before the National Green Tribunal to his last resort to the Apex Court, Arora’s plea was dismissed. The only response he received was the reiteration of due diligence followed while giving clearance.
Emphasizing the importance of the forest, Arora questioned the reason for choosing this particular area for building the complex. “Why was this particular forest land chosen for the project? This land falls within the Bahu Conservation Reserve and is also close to the Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary. Was there no other land available in Jammu apart from a conservation reserve?” he posed.
Furthermore, the main allegation, in this case, is the hastiness while giving clearance permission to the project. The Clearance was provided by the Forest and Wildlife Departments within just 12 days.
The Forest Advisory Committee approved the proposal followed by the State Administrative Council which, while permitting the use of 40 acres of land, restricted the cutting down of trees to 3000. Later, the State Board of Wildlife gave its approval on 23rd October 2019.
A notable point here is the replacement of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997 by the latest Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act of 2019. However, the current project is said to be carried out under section 2 of the 1997 Act.
An analysis made by the Logical Indian raised an important question: “Why were the authorities in question ready to risk the virtual possibility of rejection from the administration whose nod is the basic requirement under section 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997, for the state government to denotify forest land for non-forest use?”
Another important fact in this context is that the Housing and Urban Development Department of the State was also not approached.
Moreover, the inhabitants of the forests were completely ignored while designing the proposal. “No one told us anything. Officials come here, survey the land and leave. We protested when the forest guards started marking the trees. There was a scuffle and FIRs were launched against our youths,” said Ghulam Mohammad, a Gujjar residing in the forest area.
The above observations raise serious apprehensions on the future of the forest which is claimed to be a part of the greenbelt of Jammu and which is home to a plethora of trees and animals.