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In a first, J&K’s migratory tribals, livestock offered a lift for highland pastures

The lush green pastures and mountains of Kashmir would welcome their annual pastoral friends earlier than usual this year. Instead of their regular movement on foot which would take weeks of marches and halts, the tribal families and their livestock have now been offered a lift.

In a first, J&K’s tribal affairs department on Sunday flagged off a fleet of 40 trucks for transportation of livestock and families of migratory tribal population from various hot Jammu districts to the highland pastures in Kashmir.

“The lieutenant governor is committed to providing transportation support and transit facilities to the migratory tribal population. Directions were also issued to ensure saturation in transport facilities and cover 100% migratory population on NH and Mughal Road,” said Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, secretary, tribal affairs department. “Funds to the tune of 6.8 crore have been released in favour of J&K Road Transport Corporation for procurement of trucks for the purpose,” he added.

Transhumance, a practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer, is centuries old practice in J&K.

As per conservative estimates, some six lakh people from tribal communities, including Gujjars and Bakerwals, travel every year with their livestock mostly from Jammu to Kashmir in summer and back in winter. A small population of Gaddi-Sippi travels within the Jammu division. The transport system will reduce the travel time of some of these families from 20-30 days on-foot to 1-2 days, while it will also help in smooth management of traffic on the roads.

Dr Javaid Rahi, author and researcher on tribal issues, said the move was an important step for the recognition and welfare of tribal communities in J&K. “J&K witnesses the country’s biggest movement of tribal pastoral communities every year and never has any government provided transport for the same,” Rahi, who also belongs to the Gujjar community, said.

He said till now, the tribals had to arrange logistics on their own while the government would provide them travel permits and identity cards after the families pay grazing tax.

He said that the involvement of the government in their travel would make their lives easy as they would otherwise face natural calamities, traffic accidents and even attacks for vested interests. Their livelihood will also get a boost, he added.

“There was a persistent demand from the migratory tribal community for the provision of some transportation mode,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.

Sometimes, due to harsh weather conditions, there was a loss of livestock and other damages, causing a lot of inconvenience to the affected families.

The finance department has advised the tribal affairs department to avail the services of JKRTC for the movement till a formal policy is framed in this regard .

Besides the transport, the government is also going to provide transit accommodations to these people. The department is establishing these transit accommodations at eight different locations for the convenience of migratory tribal population involving financial implication of around 28 crore. “Two transit accommodations are nearing completion,” the spokesperson said.

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