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A lot has been said about national security when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir, but very little news comes out when it comes to environmental security.
Jammu and Kashmir, being an eco-sensitive zone and a Himalayan state, has huge environmental issues which are rather overlooked.
I recently visited Jammu's Raika forest. Forty hectares of land inside this forest has been approved for the construction of the new Jammu and Kashmir High Court complex. This forest houses over 150 species of plants and animals.
"Jammu city has one of the best (environmental) lungs. One being Bahu Rakh, which was originally 60 sq km, in which part of Raika also exists. On the western side, we have Ramnagar Rakh, where the present high court is situated. Both of these areas were around 100 sq km of forest area. It was a great environment."Bhushan Parimoo, Environmentalist
Parimoo further added, "We had forests and wildlife co-existing here. Water was also getting regulated. But due to lack of environmental concern Bahu Rakh is now only 16 sq km, where Raika is. From 60 sq km, it’s been reduced to just 6 sq km now. Similarly, Ramnagar Rakh has been reduced to 5-7 sq km from 30 sq km. Both these (environmental) lungs have been chopped off. I mean, I am unable to understand (the need for a new one, when) we already have a good high court complex. It has everything. Now, J&K is a Union Territory and not even a big state. Compare this with the current Srinagar High Court. That one is small and inside the city. One fine morning, somebody had a dream to acquire 813 Kanal (around 40 hectare) land (to build a court complex)."
The high court in its letter to the government cited the decrepit state of the building, awkward design, lack of space among other reasons for the allotment of land for expansion.
Environmental Damage, a Cause of Concern For Tribals
Residents and locals are concerned and worried about the damage it would cause to the environment and livelihood.
"It’s been said that our land has been acquired for the court complex. Nobody has told us anything. Neither the district collector, nor the tehsildar is talking about this with us. One day, they were marking our trees and then we got to know why they were numbering our trees."Ghulam Mohammad, Resident
What's even more concerning for residents living there is that they've been living in those areas for decades now and suddenly they've been asked to move.
"We have been living here for 5 to 6 generations, the documents of which we can show to you too. They (authorities) visited the area. They are saying there is a traffic problem there, so they need to shift the high court. On paper, they have shown only 22 families living in the area but, in reality, there are 60-65 families living here."Jamat Ali, Resident
Radha, a resident of the same place says that the court should not be made there because it requires cutting down of trees. She adds, "We are not nomads who spend six months at one place and six at another place. We stay here only. Where will we go?"
"They have said that 38,000 trees would be cut. But there are around 1-1.5 lakh trees that would be cut. These 38,000 trees are only the ones on our farms. The ones in the forest are not being talked about. We don’t have employment here. We are dependent on our cattle for our livelihood."Jamat Ali, Resident
Despite these concerns, the project currently has legal sanction. In January 2020, the petition that was filed in National Green Tribunal against the move was dismissed on the grounds that legal process for the approval of forest land development has been followed.
(The author is an environmental activist. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)