Thousands of people in J&K who are in occupation of the government land are staring at an uncertain future after the government asked the outgoing leaseholders to evict properties or else face evictions under the new rules. A report by Riaz Wani
In December 2022, Jammu and Kashmir administration issued new land laws whereby the owner’s right to hold on to properties on lease came to an end. The new J&K land Grant Rules 2022 replace the 1960 land grant rules.
According to the new rules, the leases of current landowners will not be extended in case of their lease expiry. An expert committee will enlist all properties where the lease has ended. It will be e-auctioned afresh and outsiders can also apply.
The government has asked the outgoing leaseholders to evict properties or else face evictions under the new rules.
The rules diversify the use of land on lease to education, healthcare, agriculture, tourism, skill development and development of traditional art, craft, culture and languages. The land could be leased for hydroelectric projects, stadiums, playgrounds, gymnasiums or other recreational purposes.
Significantly, the rules also reduce the fresh lease period from 99 to 40 years.
The rules have been a source of much unease among the people in the union territory, especially among the lease holders.
What is more, the administration has also set a deadline of three months for the removal of encroachments of state land across the region. Thousands of people in J&K who are in occupation of the government land are staring at uncertain times.
The lists of encroachment of government land have started circulating on social media, which show thousands of kanals of the land in possession of people as government land, triggering widespread panic. However, the administration later termed these lists as “fake.”
Making things further difficult from the point of view of the occupants of state land is that the Supreme Court recently refused to stay the circular issued by the J&K administration directing deputy commissioners to remove encroachments on state land by January end.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravi Kumar, however, orally asked the UT administration to not demolish any houses.
“We are not passing any order today. You instruct them orally not to demolish any houses. But we will not grant a general stay…. others should not get benefit”, the bench orally told the counsel of J&K.
“If stay is granted then it will benefit land grabbers also” Justice Shah said.
Meanwhile, continuing its anti-encroachment drive, the administration has already retrieved nearly 1000 kanal state and grazing land in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. Besides, over 300 kanals of state land was retrieved during anti-encroachment drives in the three districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Shopian.
The circular also applies to Roshni land. In 2005, the then state government had transferred 6,04, 602 kanals of the state government land to its occupants against nominal payments. Of this, the Jammu region accounted for 5,71,210 kanals, which is 17 times the land regularised in the Valley. Now the government wants to retrieve this land also.
The Roshni Act was first introduced in the budget speech of 2000 by the then finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather of the National Conference. In 2005, the PDP government-led by Mufti Mohammed Syed relaxed the cut-off year to 2004. The Congress government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad further relaxed the cut-off year to 2007.
“Laws are created for the welfare of the public, but in J&K they are weaponised to disempower, humiliate and punish. This latest diktat was issued because despite GOI misusing all the agencies at its disposal and unleashing draconian laws, aren’t getting the desired results (sic),” former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote on Twitter.
”The National Conference is very clear that encroachments are not acceptable, but state land belongs to the people,” the National Conference spokesperson Ifra Jan said. “If the government has passed an order, do they have any alternative for these people?,” he questioned.
However, the administration seems set on its course. It remains to be seen how far it would succeed in retrieving the land. And how it would respond to the brewing discontent in the BJP’s core base in Jammu division.