Earlier this week, a video that appeared to show a demolition drive by the Jammu and Kashmir government went viral on social media. Government officials struck at makeshift huts used by people from the nomadic Gujjar community in Mamal village in the hills of Pahalgam in South Kashmir.
Gujjar activists said the houses were empty at the time as the Gujjar families who lived there had gone to Jammu for the winter. They use these huts for shelter when they return to the pastures of the Kashmir Valley in summer. Gujjar activists say these makeshift huts had existed for decades and were never touched before by the authorities.
On November 15, after the videos caused a furore in the Valley, People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti visited the area and warned the Central government against such demolition drives, which targeted nomadic communities who were “keepers of the forests”. She accused the government of driving out Muslim occupants of land in both Jammu and Kashmir to hand it over to industries.
On November 7, the Jammu and Kashmir government had issued a statement that a team consisting of personnel from the Pahalgam Development Authority, the Wildlife, Revenue and Forest Department, the municipal committee and the police had “launched an anti-encroachment drive at Mamal Pahalgam and retrieved illegally encroached 110 kanals [5.6 hectares] of Forest Land.”
The statement continued: “The team demolished illegal huts, Dokas [wooden shacks] and fencing on the said land.” It added that such drives would continue “all the state/ forest land will be retrieved.”
The demolition drive is part of a recent push to reclaim state land from unauthorised occupation. About a month ago, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, popularly known as Roshni Act, unconstitutional.
The act had enabled the government to grant ownership rights for state land to those who occupied it, for a fee to be determined by the government. The proceeds from such transactions were to fund power projects in Jammu and Kashmir. In its judgment, the court went on to direct that all state land under unauthorised occupation be retrieved.
On October 31, the Union Territory government also directed the revenue department to “work out the modalities and plan to evict encroachers from such State Land and retrieve the State land within a period of six months.”
The Roshni judgment and the government eviction drives have left thousands of poor families from the nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal communities in an even more precarious condition than before. Over the past few years, eviction drives in Jammu have already displaced many such families. The Pahalgam operation suggests they have now entered the Valley.
On November 15, another video, which appeared to show an eviction drive in Jammu’s Rajouri district, surfaced on social media. Scroll could not independently confirm the authenticity of the video.