J&K: Land grab of a different kind

24 Jul, 2013    ·   4050

Shujaat Bukhari discusses nuances of the visit of a high-level panel of J&K State Legislative Council to New Delhi

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
A high-level panel of state Legislative Council headed by its chairman Amrit Malhotra was in Delhi last week. On the face of it, it was not a pleasure trip as is attributed to all such committees of state legislature that take up visits outside the state to study issues on various subjects. Apparently it was on a serious job to follow up the efforts of at least three such committees that have visited Delhi since 2006.

The main objective has been to retrieve the prized land on Raja Ji Marg, which is currently under the occupation of Army.

By all accounts the visit was not ordinary as it was headed by the second highest constitutional authority in the state and the task too was of much importance to the state. No doubt the panel gave instructions to the officers of the state who are stationed in Delhi to vigorously pursue the case. But it is unlikely that anything tangible would come out of such instructions as the Ministry of Defence has not taken the state’s plea so seriously.

Irony is that not only are the Army, Air Force and other paramilitary forces occupying lakhs of kanals illegally within the territory of Jammu and Kashmir but also it has spread out beyond those limits, thus conveying a strong message about its unbridled authority. Not only is the state land under the occupation of army but after 1990 a new trend of taking over propriety land of civilians has set in and they in turn are given peanuts as rent, that too after running from pillar to post. In Pattan area alone 500 acres of proprietary land both agricultural and orchards are under the occupation of Army since 1990 which is in addition to hundreds of acres that is in its possession since 1947 where major formations are in place.

In Srinagar, army holds more than 1,000 acres alone at Badami Bagh housing its 15 Corps Headquarters. The state government pursued hard to get 139 acres of land vacated from Army at Tattoo Ground in the heart of Srinagar and in exchange allotted 212 acres in Shariefabad. But Army kept both and no one dared to seek explanation. In Damodar Karewa alone Air Force base is spread over 2493 acres and the people of adjacent villages had no option but to sell the land to the Defence Ministry. There are many important institutions such as S K Institute of Agriculture Sciences and Technology whose land has been occupied by Army in Manasbal and Sopore.

By its own admission Ministry of Defence says that 570133 kanals of land are under the occupation of Army in Jammu and Kashmir. In a written reply to Ghulam Nabi Rattanpuri’s question in the Rajya Sabha in 2012, Defence Minister A K Antony said that under the jurisdiction of Defence Estate Office (DEO) of Udhampur that comprises—Doda, Udhampur, Ramban, Rajouri, Poonch, Reasi, Kishtwar and Jammu—209239 Kanals of land are under Army occupation.

While as under DEO Srinagar which comprises Anantnag, Budgam, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Srinagar, Army occupies 56221.2 Kanals of land.

Army occupies 182433.8 Kanals of land in DEO Leh/Kargil; while in DEO Jammu—Jammu, Samba and Kuthua—Army occupies 71664.72 Kanals of land. In North Kashmir—Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora—Army occupies 55398.4 Kanals of land.

“There is no land under possession of Army in Jammu and Kashmir which is on free hold rights category or long term lease. In Jammu & Kashmir the land is being held either on hiring or requisition for which rent is being paid,” Antony informed the upper House of Parliament.

In Kargil alone Army has occupied 15,800 kanals of land, both private and state, according to information given by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to Legislative Council on March 5, 2013.

So in New Delhi, Army is not doing anything new but continuing with its agenda of usurping the state land. Out of 114 kanals of land the state has been successful in retrieving only 18 kanals during last over 65 years and that was done after the House Committee headed by then MLA Ghulam Hassan Khan vigorously pursued the case with Defence Minister A K Antony. But of late MOD has dragged its feet and it has been conveyed to state that it was not possible to vacate it as the alternate accommodation was not available. During the North Zone Council meeting held in Chandigarh in 2011 MOD conveyed it to Union Home Ministry that the land could not be vacated.

The land in question belonged to former Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and had a palace on it. Soon after the partition the land as well the palace were occupied by the Defence authorities with the promise to vacate it as soon as the new Army headquarters was established. That came in the shape of Sena Bhavan a few years later but it (Palace) was used for United Service Institute (USI), an offshoot of Defence Ministry. USI too shifted to cantonment area but the JK property is being used as Sappers headquarters of the Army. The huge complex is still identified as “Kashmir House” on the expensive Rajajaji Marg.

Infact the failure of successive state governments in over past six decades has been responsible for losing the prime land in Delhi. The successive regimes have not paid any attention to upgrade the infrastructure for those people who visit Delhi and in comparison to other states Jammu and Kashmir has less accommodation that is generally used by the elite. Even patients do not have a place to stay. The J&K House located at Prithvi Raj Road is out-of-bounds even for ministers and top officers as it has been exclusively used by Chief Minister and Governor. During the brief spell of his rule in 2008, present Governor N N Vohra further squeezed the space by converting three VIP rooms into a larger suit for himself.

In addition to Delhi, the state owns properties in Mumbai, Amritsar and Chandigarh but despite spending huge money the visits of high-powered committees and legal assistance, nothing substantive has been achieved so far.

By arrangment with Rising Kashmir