J&K officials chopped the apple trees of nomadic tribes for illegally occupying forest land, but it is not possible to verify the number of trees cut.
Farooq Ahmad Wagay, a villager, said that the forest department had registered a case against several village families, asking them to evict the forest land two years ago. The villagers had opposed it in the court, and after a few hearings, they were told by their lawyer to resume farming. They did that, and no one from the government objected, the villagers claimed.
Muzaffar Bhat, a noted Right to Information activist from the Valley, questioned the forest department's action that he said was unwarranted. He stated, "the officials could have seized the encroached land and put a warning that trespassing would invite legal action, but it seemed they were keener on destruction." He added that tribals like Gujjars and Bakerwals and traditional forest dwellers who have lived in the forests for 75 years were entitled to certain rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Sarita Chauhan, Commissioner Secretary, J&K Forests, told News 18 that the action in Budgam was under a high court order on public interest litigation filed to remove encroachments. The honorable court had directed various departments, including Forests, to remove encroachments, and the act was based on the order. She added that no government order called for the removal of tribals or forest dwellers. The action was directed against land usurpers. Every forest official in a district has to remove the encroachment, she said
The J&K government ordered the removal of apple trees in the Budgam district, and villagers claimed that 10,000 trees were cut down. But there is no credible evidence in regards to the number of trees that were chopped.