Disquiet in J-K over admn’s all-out anti-encroachment drive

The crackdown against squatters has run up against stiff opposition from the major political parties such as the NC and the PDP. Their leaders have alleged the government is retrieving land from the poor while leaving the well heeled unscathed. A report by Riyaz Wani

Jammu and Kashmir is in the midst of an all-out eviction drive. The administration is out to retrieve the government land which, according to the revenue department, has been occupied by people. The government has already claimed to have retrieved around 3.89 lakh kanals of state and grazing land over the last month and 5000 kanals of custodian land in the last two years. 

This has triggered deep unease and uncertainty in the union territory, with most people feeling apprehensive about the authenticity of their property documents. The move has run up against stiff opposition from the major political parties such as the National Conference and the PDP.  The leaders from the parties urged the government to limit the drive only to well-heeled people who have grabbed more land. They alleged that on the ground, the government machinery was retrieving land from poor people.   

The National Conference leader Omar Abdullah asked the administration to issue notices to encroachers and give them a chance to produce documents before moving to evict them. The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti held her press conference at the Delhi Press Club where she told reporters that evictions had turned Kashmir into “Afghanistan”. A day after Mufti held a protest march in Delhi prompting Delhi Police to detain her.  The videos of her protest went viral in Kashmir. The People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone, on the other hand, urged New Delhi to show its humane face in Kashmir. He said that empathy and not bulldozer should represent New Delhi in the Valley. 

However, the drive hasn’t been halted. The administration in its defence has said that it was just doing its job. It has said that land being retrieved during its anti-encroachment drive will be used to develop public infrastructure,

“This land belongs collectively to the masses. The retrieved land will be used for the benefit of all of them,” J-K chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta said.  “No person can usurp the rights of commoners.”

Mehta said that such measures should be supported by the people as the retrieved land will be used for public utility such as hospitals, schools, playgrounds, bus stands, industries and parking spaces.

To establish its bonafides, the administration also took possession of a commercial building raised by a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sofi Yousuf on state land in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

But this has not carried conviction with people in the Valley who see the drive largely aimed at majority community in the region. 

Lone said as much in his press conference: “The predominant assault is against one community. A few people from the other community have been targeted just to create the perception that the drive is even-handed.” 

The land being retrieved includes the Roshni land, which was earlier handed by the previous governments to its occupiers under a scheme.  The scheme, which was originally meant to raise Rs 25000 crore to finance the purchase of hydropower projects by selling state land under unauthorized occupation turned out to be a damp squib. It has fetched only a few hundred crore rupees since it was enacted by the then National Conference government  in 2002 which makes the revenue earned from it disproportionately less than the target. 

However, it was amended by the PDP-Congress coalition government in 2004 and 2007. In 2006, the Government had estimated that the total state land was 1,25,03,973 kanal, of which 20,64,972 kanal were under encroachment. The encroached land was valued at Rs 25,448 crore. Though on paper, the scheme looked fantastic, it  turned out to be a massive disappointment.

But now the current administration has invalidated the allotment of Roshni land, and is retrieving it by vacating its occupiers. According to government figures, 2.74 lakh kanals of land are being  taken back from its occupiers over the coming weeks. As yet, however, it is unclear what the political ramifications will be.