BDOs Must Hold Gram Sabhas to Decide FRA Cases

Absence of elected Panchayats is impacting village development & governance.

As the 5 year term of Halqa Panchayats in Jammu & Kashmir came to an end on January 9th this year, the Government appointed Block Development Officers (BDOs) as Administrators to run the affairs of the village Panchayats. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj issued an order regarding this on the 10th of January 2024. The order issued by Secretary Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department reads:

“All the Block Development Officers- BDOs in addition to their own duties would also act as administrators for village Panchayats under their jurisdiction for a period of six months with effect from January 10, 2024, or till further orders.”

It is now more than 2 months since BDOs have been assigned the charge of administrators but the villagers in different areas of J&K allege that hardly any Gram Sabhas (Deh Majlis meetings) are held.

A few months back, a local court in district Budgam directed holding a Gram Sabha to decide a case under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in panchayat halqas Branwar, Neegu and Jabbad of Block Surasyar District Budgam. However, the order is yet to be enforced on the ground.

The Court of Sub Judge Chadoora had ordered the Gram Sabha to decide on the issue of granting of grazing rights to the local population as mandated under the Forest Rights Act -FRA. The order issued Civil Judge Senior Division Mr Mir Wajahat had issued direction to the Gram Sabha to consider the rights and preferences of both the parties within 30 days from the date of issuance of the order so that there is equitable distribution of resources. But the order passed on Feb 28th 2024 is yet to be executed on the ground. There are many other similar cases wherein Gram Sabhas are not being held by BDOs which is impacting village development and other issues.

Background of Case

The order was passed by the Court of Sub Judge Chadoora in the matter of Ghulam Mohammad Jahara V/S Ghulam Qadir Thekray, both residents of Branwar, Chadoora district Budgam. The case was related to granting of Grazing Rights to the local communities as some families had been claiming customary rights on grazing of their livestock in Chaskani Nad meadow in Pir Panjal forest division of Budgam.

The other party Ghulam Qadir Thekrey says that the vast meadow of around 6000 to 7000 kanals of land cannot be given to seven or eight families as there are over eight hundred families in Branwar Jabbad and Neegu villages who have rights over the said pastures for grazing their sheep and cattle.

The plaintiffs Ghulam Mohammad Jahara Chowdhary and others had claimed rights over Chaskani Nad meadow which is spread over an area of more than 6000 kanals located in Doodh Ganga forest range of Pir Panjaal forest division Budgam.

The other party Ghulam Qadir Thekrey (defendants) who also belong to Gujjar community allege that Ghulam Mohammad Jahara alias Chowdhary had forcibly taken control over 6000 kanals of meadows and were earning money from it as the family takes money from Bakarwals of Rajouri and Poonch for grazing their animals in summer months while as majority of the local Gujjar and other pastoralist communities were deprived of these rights.

The matter finally landed in court last year and Sub Judge Chadoora recently directed the Gram Sabha to decide the matter. Pertinently, under Forest Rights Act 2006, the Gram Sabha is the supreme authority to decide upon the claims filed by local population. The Gram Sabha is the adult population of the village and 50% quorum is necessary to decide on the Forest Rights Act (FRA) related cases.

DDC Chairman Budgam

The District Development Council Chairman Budgam, Nazir Ahmad Khan, while talking to the new agency Kashmir News Service -KNS last week hailed the order issued by Sub Judge Chadoora and assured that a mega Gram Sabha would be held soon to decide this long pending dispute. Locals are still waiting for this gram sabha.

“The order issued by the Court of Sub Judge Chadoora on Feb 28th 2024 is in tandem with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act and District Development Council Budgam will ensure compliance of this order and within a week or so we will make sure a joint Gram Sabha is held at Branwar for three panchayats (Branwar , Neegu and Jabbad) under the guidance of District Development Council Budgam, DFO Budgam, Assistant Commissioner Panchayat , BDO Surasyar and others”, the Chairman had said.

Denied FRA benefits

The Gujjar community along with other traditional forest dwellers of Branwar, Jabbad , Neegu villages in Budgam district were denied the grazing rights for their hundreds of sheep in the pasture-land of Chaskani Naad last summer. The said pastureland is located at an altitude of 4000 meters in Doodh Ganga forest range of Pir Panjal Forest Division. The villagers had been alleging that some influential families had taken control over the hundreds of acres grassland (6000 kanal plus) in Chaskani Naad meadow for last many years and the family takes money as “ransom” from grazers especially from Bakerwal families of Rajouri and Poonch by allowing them to graze their animals in the said meadows. The matter finally landed in court which has now ordered the local Gram Sabha to decide the issue within a month’s time. The defendants have also been restrained from using the pastureland until disposal of the case, but the holding of Gram Sabha is considered to be a democratic order which is acceptable to the majority of the population. The locals say that said order is not being implemented on the ground and have appealed to the Secretary Rural Development Department Dr Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary to intervene. Infact last year also the Chairman DDC Budgam Nazir Ahmad Khan had written to Lt Governor Manoj Sinha regarding this issue and had suggested holding a gram sabha to address this issue but the gram sabha was not held.

BDOs need training to conduct Gram Sabhas

Locals appreciate the order of the Court of Sub Judge Chadoora but want the same to be enforced on the ground. This author also spoke to several aggrieved people and they too said that officials of Rural Development Department especially the BDOs need to be sensitized on Forest Rights Act and its implementation especially they must be trained how to conduct the Gram Sabha (Deh Majlis) in villages to grant individual and community rights under Forest Rights Act-FRA. Infact the Block Development Officer Pakherpora block Mrs Shameema on my personal request had conducted a Gram Sabha at Darwan Nengroo Basti on Jan 20th 2024 which was attended by a large number of men and women of the area. But the follow-up meeting could not take place as the officer was transferred from Budgam district to Ganderbal. The said officer was very much sensitized on FRA and its implementation and I wish other BDOs are also trained and sensitized by the Govt regarding conducting Gram Sabhas and implementing Forest Rights Act -FRA.


When the term of Village Panchayats in J&K ended last year in December, this author had recommended that the Govt assign the task of Panchayat administrators to DDC Members instead of BDOs. The reason is that BDOs have a busy schedule and have many other tasks to take up. Nowadays they are busy with Lok Sabha elections and panchayat work suffers a lot. Will BDOs attend meetings with District Election Officers or will they conduct Gram Sabha?

Out of 5000 village panchayats in J&K, rarely any meetings have been conducted in the last 2 months. This needs to be viewed seriously by the Govt and BDOs be asked to mandatorily hold at least 15 Gram Sabhas every month covering 15 village panchayats. The absence of elected Gram Panchayats is not only impacting rural development work but is also impacting village governance and is going against democratic ethics enshrined in the constitution.