'Naya J&K' empowers tribal communities, leaves Kashmiri leaders exasperated
'Naya J&K' empowers tribal communities, leaves Kashmiri leaders exasperated. Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, Jan 16 : Empowering tribal population in Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the top priorities of the government after August 5, 2019 -- when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J&K's special status and divided it into two Union Territories.

The new initiatives aimed at empowering the members of Gujjar-Bakerwal and Gaddi-Sippi communities in the Himalayan region seem to have unnerved the Kashmir based politicians. These leaders fear that once these communities are empowered they would lose a major chunk of their vote bank.

The members of tribal communities were shown green pastures by the politicians for the past 70-years. They were promised that they would get all the rights and will be treated at par with others. But politicians failed to fulfill their commitments. However, the change in J&K's status-quo has proven to be the turning point for these deprived communities.

In September 2021, J&K Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, handed over individual and community rights certificates to the beneficiaries of Gujjar-Bakerwal, Gaddi-Sippi communities under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. These rights were granted to usher a new era of empowerment and prosperity for the deprived tribal population in the Union Territory. In areas where community rights were granted, Rs 10 crore were provided immediately for infrastructure development. The work on roads, power supply, Anganwadi centers has already commenced.

It was for the first time since 1947 that Rs 73 crore were allocated for cluster tribal model village. The government has also initiated the process to set up 1,500 mini sheep farms to make the members of these communities self reliant. The 'Mission Youth' in collaboration with Tribal Department has embarked on the mission to set up 16 milk villages to connect at least 2,000 youngsters to the dairy sector at the cost of Rs 16 crore, besides providing training, branding, marketing and transport facilities.

The tribal communities have also been granted rights over minor forest produce. The government in coordination with the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited has finalized the process to establish infrastructure for collection, value addition, packaging, and distribution.

The J&K government is also developing transit accommodations at eight places at an estimated cost of Rs 28 crore for accommodating seasonal transitory population, besides provisions for medical camps, animal yards, veterinary care, and adequate security. The government has decided to build Tribal Bhavans in Jammu, Srinagar and Rajouri.

Scholarships worth Rs 30 crore were given to tribal children in 2020. As many as 1,521 seasonal schools for migratory children, two residential schools on the migratory route are coming up across J&K. Seven new hostels which were under construction for the youth of tribal community are almost complete and the UT administration has already proposed to the Centre to build 79 additional hostels. The tribal youth who want to start tourism business are being provided with training and an easy financial assistance of up to Rs 10 lakh. The world has opened up for the members of these communities during the past 2-years and they are grabbing the opportunities.

Delimitation Commission proposes 16 Assembly seats The Delimitation Panel -- assigned with the task to redraw assembly and parliamentary constituencies in J&K -- has proposed reserving 16 seats for the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribe (ST) communities in the Union Territory.

The commission, headed by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai in its draft report has proposed nine seats for STs and seven for SCs in the new legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Gujjars and Bakerwals have welcomed the proposal of the Delimitation Commission. Once the draft is finalised it will be for the first time in the past seven decades that tribal legislators will represent their communities in J&K's Legislative Assembly.

A large number of people of Gujjar Bakerwal community live in J&K. They had many demands continuously over the years. The governments came and went but no one paid attention to towards the issues raised by them.

Kashmir parties unhappy After the Delimitation Panel presented its draft Kashmiri politicians reacted sharply. They termed the draft as "unacceptable" aimed at dividing the communities in J&K. These parties claimed that the Delimitation Commission had been created simply to serve the BJP's political interests by dividing people along religious and regional lines and the real game plan was to install a government in J&K that would legitimise the "illegal and unconstitutional decisions" of August 5, 2019. On the other hand leaders of tribal communities expressed happiness over the proposed reservation for STs and SCs and termed it as a historic move aimed at ending the decades old discrimination with them.

Recently, National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and other Kashmir based parties tried their best to give communal colour to the demolition drive carried out by Jammu Development Authority (JDA) in Jammu. National Conference termed the drive as the part of the larger plan of ruling BJP to disenfranchise every segment of the society in J&K. Peoples Democratic Party questioned the demolition of houses of tribal communities and asked the residents to stand up against "such atrocities". CPI (M) said that this is how ST and tribal communities are being treated while the government claims to be empowering them.

The Jammu Development Authority termed the allegations as baseless and asked the politicians how can a government body carry out selective eviction drives? The JDA stated that due process of law was followed while carrying out the drive. The Authority said that 17 pucca and kacha structures raised upon the land were demolished and removed and 41 Kanal Prime land falling under khasra No. 1193 and 1206 was retrieved from the encroachers.

It seems that leaders of National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party have forgotten when they were in power many such demolition drives were carried out across J&K to retrieve the encroached land. It's strange that during their tenures such drives were legal but now these are illegal.

Picking up holes Kashmir based politicians are leaving no chance to pick up holes with whatever present dispensation is doing as they have been left with nothing to do. They have realised that members of tribal communities won't side with them as they fed them with slogans during their tenures. These leaders have foreseen that once the draft of Delimitation Commission is implemented they may end up losing 16 assembly seats. Leaders of tribal communities have on many occasions have stated that they were hoodwinked by the Kashmiri leaders and they won't support any of these regional parties who gave them "lollipops' for the 70-years.

The initiatives taken by the present dispensation have proven beyond doubt that if the erstwhile political regimes wanted they could have done a lot for these communities but tribal men and women were used as vote banks by the politicians. They were dumped soon after the elections ended. The attempts of politicians to give communal colour to the legitimate actions of the government are also not helping their cause as a common man has understood their machinations. The 'Naya J&K' is about including everyone and the actions of the government are speaking louder than its words.

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