In J&K's 'Pencil Village', Locals Fear Loss Of Livelihoods

Under the Roshni Act 2001, the government had given the ownership rights to people cultivating state land in J&K. The Act was scrapped during the Governor's rule in 2018 after it was called a "land scam".

Locals are worried they may lose livelihood.

Srinagar:

In a small village in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district, which is famous for the production of pencils, a survival challenge has lately emerged for locals. Ukhoo, often known as the 'Pencil Village' that also earned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's praise last year, is one of the many sites marked by the government to set up security camps in J&K.

Zariefa Begum, a local, has a plea for the government about the land her family uses to grow vegetables and earn a living. "This is the only land we have. Where will we go? It will turn us into beggars. We appeal to the government... please don't take it away. "

A government order, however, says it's the state land and not the private land that has been notified for security camps.

The order - issued in October - notified 10 sites across three districts - Pulwama, Shopian, and Anantnag where the government has transferred more than 65 acres of "state land" and "grazing land" to the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) to set up their camps.

Under the Roshni Act 2001, the government had given the ownership rights to people cultivating state land in J&K. The Act was scrapped during the Governor's rule in 2018 after it was called a "land scam".

Eighty-year-old Abdul Aziz says he has been cultivating the land his entire life - so did his forefathers. "We have no land with us now. Initially, Railways took our land and promised jobs - but they never fulfilled their promise. Where will we go, if they take this land from us?" he asks.

Last year, the Prime Minister made a reference to the village in his radio address - "Mann Ki Baat". He highlighted how the village has been helping to "educate the people of India by making pencils".

"Pulwama in Kashmir is playing an important role in educating the entire nation. Almost 90 percent of the demand for pencils in the country is met by Kashmir Valley and Pulwama has a big share in that. At one time we used to import the wood for pencils, but now, our Pulwama is making the nation self-reliant in this field," PM Modi said.

Those supplying the pencil slats say the production is already down due to Covid. And if the land is taken away, the village will lose its livelihood and identity.

"Our production is already hit due to Covid...we want an increase in employment but it seems the reverse is being done. They are creating such a situation here," says Farooq Ahmad, who manages a pencil-making factory, The villagers, who once rejoiced their success story, are finding themselves at crossroads.

In the last three years, a massive security induction has taken place in Kashmir and the government is facing a shortage of accommodation for security forces.

Around one-third of the CRPF's total strength is deployed in J&K. The transfer of land at Ukhoo village to the CRPF may soon turn the pencil village into a security base.

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