Special status has saved our forests, J&K forest minister Lal Singh told NDTV
It's a role reversal of sorts for the partners of the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir. For the first time the BJP, which has all along opposed special status to J&K, is opposing the implementation of a central law in the state. But the PDP is keen that the Forest Rights Act that was passed in parliament in 2006 be extended to the state.
Invoking the special status granted to J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution, forest minister Lal Singh says the central law is not in the interest of the state.
"Special status has saved our forests; otherwise they would have been finished long ago. If something good is coming from the country, we have a right to implement it in the state. But it's something that doesn't suit us, can ruin this state," Mr Singh told NDTV.
The law passed by parliament gives forest rights to scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers. But the PDP's move to clear a bill on tribal policy in the state cabinet was scuttled by the BJP. Mr Singh has also rejected a private member's bill that was moved by PDP lawmaker Qamar Ali Choudery in the assembly earlier this week.
"I reject this bill outright. Such a question doesn't arise," said Mr Singh. He claimed there were already enough safeguards for nomads and tribals in the state and that the central law has not been good for the country. "It's not good for the country, they are now repenting why they passed this Act".
But PDP leader and tribal affairs minister Zulfikar Ali disagrees. "It's a very good piece of legislation by parliament. I think no one can stop it because the Act which is implemented in entire India and protects tribal rights should be implemented in J&K as well," Mr Ali told NDTV.
Scheduled tribes make up nearly 14 per cent of the state's population. And nomadic tribes in particular have been demanding implementation of the central law, alleging that they are being harassed and dispossessed from forest areas.
"Throughout the country the Forest Rights Act of 2006 has been implemented but not in J&K where nomads form the third largest chunk of the population. When we ask them why it has not been implemented, they say because of Article 370," said Talib Hussain, an activist who has been fighting for the rights of nomads.
"They were in a great hurry to implement GST (Goods and Services Tax) in the state and a special session of the assembly was called for it. But this legislation is about helpless tribals and they are opposing it," said Mr Choudery.