Riding Modi wave in 2014, Lal Singh deserted Congress and joined BJP to eventually become state’s health minister. After Ms Mufti took over in 2016, he became forest minister, a ministry that is mostly in news for actions rarely initiated. He explains his activities in a brief interview with Masood Hussain
Kashmir Life (KL): Why the Muslim minorities in Jammu feel choked?
Lal Singh (LS): Really! Recently, I held a big function in January where Rajnath Singh ji had come. The minority you are talking about had come in huge numbers. They were raising our slogans. If there would have been any problem then would they have been doing that?
The people who tell you, are not supportive of minorities. Basically these people earn their livelihood by spreading such rumours, poison. But our party does not in support such things. The department I head, considers all humans, even birds and animals, as our people. Nobody is threatened here. Everybody enjoys his life.
KL: Gujjars and Bakerwals?
LS: Yes, I think the Gujjar and Bakerwals community feels they have been thrown out (of forests) but the data shows otherwise. There were 49700 such families living in forests in 2015 grazing herds. In 2016 their number increased to 7999, which means an increase of 3000 people. With that the land for grazing and livestock has also increased.
Problem was these poor people were not included in any survey. Basically some big fishes had allotted themselves 500-600 acres of forests for grazing. They were cheating poor nomads by keeping them as their sanyaa, by promising them that the land will be transferred to them.
As a minister, I have never did any bias with these people. People who were grazing herds of their friends were stopped. But no genuine grazer was stopped. What we did was we threw out those big fishes, but not grazers. We have beautiful land in Kashmir and in Jammu. You tell me will it look good if we grow potatoes in Pahalgam or Patnitop? I want to say all these things are just rumours and I don’t know from where you get these useless things to listen.
Media should open its mind. But they propagate wrong information. Over the years, many unprofessional people have come in this field who doesn’t know the basics of media and they just keep themselves busy by dividing people of state. J&K has been the epitome of brotherhood by preserving the language and other things but they are destroying it. In J&K radio stations have different names as per the area otherwise in rest of India it is known as Akaash wani.
J&K’s identity is forests, we cannot fiddle with it. These forests have saved us from diseases like malaria. If trees are axed at the prevailing pace, then till 2025 J&K will be affected the most. We should stop these things and we should go for more plantation.
We had gaus charai, the land for grazing animals so that people don’t need to go to forests but we have violated that law. Now we have reached to the level where in future the forest cover spread to 20,230 sq kms stands reduced to 4500 sq kms. 12000 hectares land has been used for construction, roads, and other developmental works, 1444600 trees have been cut down, 33000 hectares has been encroached: 7000 in Kashmir and 26000 in Jammu. Who will compensate this and 10,000 sq kms is degraded as per the government of India survey. 10,00,000 hectares land is degraded. So what is left now? We just have 4500 sq kms which we can call forests. We have to look into this issue.
KL: Why the rumours spread from your area only?
LS: No, not from my area. Rumours have spread from Patnitop and Sambha. These things, dokhas are seasonal and need to be dismantled once nomads move out. They should not build concrete structures. Grazing is important for forests but this too has a limit. If we are dismantling these structures, that means they are illegal. We should not do politics on these issues, which can instigate people and fiddle with peace.
KL: Real estate going down in Jammu. Is it insecurity?
LS: Anybody who wants to live in forests won’t be allowed. If the forests in Kashmir will be disturbed will you allow that? If people come and settle in plains, they are most welcome. They can settle anywhere in Jammu like we can do in Kashmir, we share same state subjects.
KL: New houses are coming up in Jammu?
LS: What new? You will find people who have come up from Kashmir and from Ladakh as well. They too are state subjects. We belong to same State.
KL: But do you also feel that they can change the demography of Jammu?
LS: In politics these things make an issue but not for us or our party. We are same state, anybody can come here, can live with love and peace. If they live here, locals too make a livelihood from that, shopkeepers earn, stake holder earn from rent.
KL: How Rohingyas came to Jammu?
LS: Who Rohingyas? Are you talking of Burmese. They are neither good for state nor for country. Our people are beautiful but I don’t know to which breed they belong to. I have said in assembly that they should be sent back. We have our identity. They have turned our city dirty, they are involved in various crimes like thefts otherwise the people of J&K never resort to thievery. We used to keep our door open. I don’t know who got them here for their voter banks.
KL: Kathua, Samba, and various other places in Jammu houses people who are not residents of state, they have come over from Punjab, Himachal or other states.
LS: We have our property rights but they don’t have it. It is wrong perception that people from outside state are living here in Jammu. In past, during the times of Maharajas and we still have same law, if we need people for some specific professions then we can get them for our developmental works. History is witness we have got them from Punjab, Hyderabad, be it either Hindus or Muslims. But the people whom we don’t know we can’t keep them. No, no ways.