Hindustan Times (Jammu)

Kupwara’s fringe villagers face eviction from temporary settlement­s

- Mir Ehsan mir.ehsan@htlive.com

After dozens of houses in Rangwar, a fringe hamlet of the district, got razed to the ground in the 2005 earthquake, the villagers were forced to descend nearly three kilometres to the Chowkibal-Tangdhar main road to find shelter.

Though a harsh winter was upon them, they could only manage to get settled in tin and wood sheds on a vacant plot near the road.

Fifteen years down the line, these displaced villagers have received eviction notices from the J&K forest department and threats of forcible demolition of their temporary settlement­s set up along the banks of Drangyari stream, which they have also named Rangwar.

The original Rangwar village, which is surrounded by snowcapped mountains and dense forests, has remained a frequent witness to natural disasters and the ensuing destructio­n. Its natives say that the village had been declared dangerous by the geology and mining department after they had conducted a survey there.

As per their accounts, floods that had struck the hamlet in August 1992 washed away many houses. This was followed by a landslide in March 1995 which damaged over a dozen houses and another flood that caused similar havoc. However, they say, the 2005 earthquake brought ultimate devastatio­n compelling them to vacate their village entirely.

Officials had then directed them to settle on a vacant plot close to the forests, the villagers said. “Rangwar was always at risk due to landslides and floods and when we had to leave it after the earthquake in 2005, the officials asked us to construct temporary sheds till they could rehabilita­te us properly,” said Afsar Khan, a member of the Halqa panchayat.

“The floods in the Khemil stream washed away almost all the plain land of the village and the land that was meant for us was taken over by the army. The government should either give us substitute land or shift the army camp from the place which was actually meant for us. Till then, we won’t vacate the temporary settlement­s,” a villager said.

After witnessing the eviction of tribal people from forest areas in various parts of J&K as the Roshni Act was scrapped, Rangwar natives are more worried.

Holding the eviction notice in his hands, Imran Ahmad, who was six years old when his family settled here, said the officials threatened to bulldoze their temporary houses. “Where will we go in this cold winter? We will die here but won’t allow anybody to touch our shelters. We are poor; our only source of income is working with the army as porters and taking their items to the LoC or in the fields of local villagers. This is great injustice,” he lamented.

“Two years ago, my husband died and now I am living alone here. Where will I go if they (officials) will dismantle my shelter,” asked Saleema Begum.

Villager Alam Khan said even this place is not safe for them as it becomes a frequent target during India-Pakistan shelling along the LoC. “In August, three persons sustained injuries when shells fired from across the LoC landed close to houses. We will move if alternativ­e land is given to us.”

Divisional forest officer (Khemil) Mohammad Ayub confirmed that notices were served to the people who have set up shelters on the forest land. “They (villagers) have occupied two hectares of forest land. Notices have been served to them and the department is waiting for orders from higher authoritie­s. The area is already under snow.”

When asked if similar notices were issued to the army for occupying five to six hectares of forest land a few hundred metres away, the officer said the department hadn’t done so.

The villagers have occupied 2-hectare forest land. Notices were issued to them and the department is waiting for orders from higher authoritie­s. The area is already under snow.

MOHAMMAD AYUB, divisional forest officer (Khemil)

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