Nearly 50 hectares of prime forest land in Jammu and Kashmir has been encroached by 221 land grabbers, including 57 state government employees, in four famous tourist resorts of Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Patnitop and Aharbal.
As per an official report of State Forest Ministry, 217 people including influential persons and government employees have encroached on 49.99 hectares (nearly 124 acres) of prime forest land in the four tourist resorts.
Pahalgam with its dense forests and picturesque hills has seen maximum encroachment with 33.81 hectares of forest land grabbed by 145 encroachers, followed by 16.30 hectares of forest land being grabbed by 59 encroachers in Aharbal tourist destination, which is famous for its water falls and untapped beauty of its mountains full of green coniferous trees in Kulgam district of South Kashmir.
Similarly, the world famous Gulmarg tourist destination has lost 0.05 hectare of forest land to one encroacher who has built a hotel on the land. Besides this, 12 encroachers have grabbed 0.83 hectares of forest land in famous Patnitop tourist resort in Jammu region.
As per the report, as many as 53 government employees among these 217 encroachers are involved in grabbing the forest land in these places of tourist attraction.
The 53 state government employees involved in encroachment of the forest land include 17 policemen, 12 from education department, two from army, one from BSF and others from revenue department, power department, health department, agriculture department, forest department and rural development department, it said.
The report said the forest department has launched a special drive for removal of encroachments from the forest land and removal of encroachment is being linked to the performance and assessment of officers.
There has been widespread criticism of the government by public and environmentalists over massive encroachments of forest land.
Apart from this, the report said two other government employees have also encroached forest land in Sunjwan in Jammu city and constructed a concrete structure and a house for which the authorities have registered cases against them.
In another case, two top government officials of rank of Deputy Commissioner and Additional Secretary have also constructed houses on forest land and the matter is now sub-judice, according to the report.
Jammu and Kashmir has a total of 20.23 lakh hectares of forest land registered. Out of which Jammu accounts for 12.06 lakh hectares of forest land, followed by 8.12 lakh hectares in Kashmir Valley and 3600 hectares in Ladakh region.
During 2016-17, a total area of 4589.66 hectares of forest land has been retrieved from encroachers in other places across the state, it said.