Minister Vows Action Against 'influential' Encroachers

2 June 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Dinesh Manhotra

Jammu: It is official that 14,345 hectares of forest land has systematically been encroached upon by influential persons across Jammu and Kashmir. However, powerful encroachers have got all records related to this illegally occupied land erased from the official documents with the connivance of corrupt bureaucrats. As it is impossible to demarcate the forest land on the outskirts of Jammu city in the available official documents, the Forest Department has decided to go through the records of the time of late Maharaja Hari Singh to identify the colonies that were illegally developed on the forest land in the past three decades. 'Records related to forest land have been mysteriously disappeared from the official documents. We are on the job to retrieve the records to demarcate forest areas,' Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment Bali Bhagat told The Tribune, adding, 'The process of demarcation is already underway and the same will be completed at any cost.' The minister candidly admitted that the records were deliberately destroyed by the land mafia with the connivance of corrupt officers to facilitate influential politicians to construct their palatial houses on the forest land. 'We are not going to spare those who have constructed big houses on the forest land,' he said and revealed that officers of the Forest Department were on the job to go through the official records of the forest land of the time of the last Dogra ruler, late Maharaja Hari Singh, to get the record straight. Bali Bhagat, who assumed the charge of Forest Minister in the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government on March 4 this year, has promised to launch an aggressive campaign to remove the encroachments from the forest land. 'Till date, we have retrieved 3,885 kanals and the campaign would be further intensified in the days to come,' he said and added that the process to demarcate the forest land in Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika, Sidhra, Roop Nagar, Chinnore and Janipur areas was going on. The government has officially admitted on the floor of the Assembly that 14,345 hectares of forest land had so far been encroached upon in the state. Out of the total land that has been encroached upon - 9,463.39 hectares has been encroached upon in Jammu and 4,877.62 hectares in Kashmir. The minister, who has set the target of retrieving the entire encroached forest land within two years, has claimed that politicians, police and forest officers, who have constructed their palatial houses on the forest land, have already been identified. 'Soon we will serve notices to all encroachers, including powerful politicians,' he added.