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Jammu-Srinagar highway hills flattened for commercial purpose

SP Sharma | Jammu |

The green hills on both sides of the Jammu-Srinagar highway are heartlessly being flattened by the politically backed land mafia as price of real estate has soared following four-laning of the scenic highway.

The worst hit is the stretch of highway between Nagrota and Udhampur where several hotels and restaurants have come up on the bulldozed areas that till recently were green hills. The green hillocks have been replaced by concrete monsters that do not fit into the scenic beauty which motorists used to relish.

The thirst for grabbing land on this stretch is unending because of the increasing number of pilgrims and tourists driving through the highway.

The number of pilgrims to the holy cave shrine of Vaishnodevi has crossed 80 lakh figure per year and was expected to touch one crore in the next few years. About 4 to 5 lakh pilgrims visit the Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir and an equal number of tourists visit the valley thereby boosting economic activity on the highway. The newly mushroomed eateries are generally targeting the visitors to Vaishnodevi that has become a round the year destination.

The left side of the highway has become favourite for the mafia because disposal of debris of the bulldozed green hills is easy in the Jhajjar water stream.

The forest and revenue departments have shut their eyes to this plunder of green cover and scenic spots on the highway. Ironically, the union environment ministry and the National Green Tribunal, which are otherwise very sensitive towards any meddling with the green cover, are also maintaining silence on the issue.

The greed of the forest mafia has grown as requirement of commercial land has increased. According to forest minister, 14,345 hectares of forest land has been encroached in the state. Only about 2600 hectares has so far been got vacated.This is besides the land of the revenue and other departments that has been grabbed. Evicting encroachers has become an uphill task for the authorities because various local political parties and the mafia try to give the eviction drives a communal colour.

The portfolio of a forest minister was abruptly changed as he waged a relentless war against the grabbers of forest land particularly around Jammu.

According to official figures, more than 2556 hectares of forest has been damaged due to 781 fires in the past three years.

As such there was need to preserve the existing forests instead of allowing free run to the land mafia, environmentalists point out.