Srinagar: A proposal to provide ‘land to landless’ people has triggered a controversy in Jammy and Kashmir, with two former chief ministers accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government of attempting to change the demography of the union territory.
While Mehbooba Mufti, who is also the president of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), alleged that the Union government was planning to settle 10 lakh migrants in J&K as its vote bank, Omar Abdullah, the working president of the National Conference, demanded that the government must “come clean”.
The remarks by the former chief ministers came days after J&K’s lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha announced on Monday, July 3, that the administration had cleared a proposal on June 21 to provide five marlas (126 sq m) land to each landless family in J&K.
Officials said that 2.57 lakh houseless families were identified in J&K through the 2011 Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) which was carried out under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Grameen) (PMAY-G), a social welfare scheme rolled out by the Government of India in 2016.
“136152 cases were sanctioned for J&K … by 2022,” an official spokesperson said in a statement.
A second survey was carried out between January 2018 and March 2019 to identify beneficiaries who claimed to have been left out under the 2011 SECC. “The data of beneficiaries …was utilized to fill the gaps between overall target and eligible beneficiaries made available from SECC Permanent Wait List (PWL),” the statement said.
In 2019, 2.65 lakh houseless cases were identified in J&K in the second phase of the PMAY(G) based on a survey from 2018-19, and 63,426 houses were allotted to J&K.
“These houses have been sanctioned in 2022 only. This phase of the scheme is getting over on 31.3.24,” officials said, adding that 1,99,550 more houses were sanctioned on May 30 this year “as a special dispensation” to Jammu and Kashmir due to “good performance…in sanction and completion of houses”.
Last month, the J&K administration organised camps across the Union territory in which 1,44,385 landless families were registered under PMAY(G). “It has been desired by the Ministry to sanction these houses by 30th June, 2023 and ensure completion by 31st March, 2024…141371 houses have been sanctioned,” the official spokesperson said.
While the GoI scheme calls for providing one marla land to landless people, the J&K administration said it has allotted five marlas of land to both landless and those occupying state, forest or any other land where construction is not permitted “to ensure sufficient land availability with them to support their basic living”.
However, the PDP chief said that there were only 19,047 “houseless” individuals in Jammu and Kashmir according to a 2021 report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. “Of these 10,848 are in urban areas while 8,199 are in rural areas. This information was disclosed by the government in the parliament in 2021,” she said.
According to a PIB statement on December 21, 2021, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, A. Narayanaswamy, told the Lok Sabha that there are 127 landless beneficiaries in the waiting list of PMAY(G) in Jammu and Kashmir while the “houseless population” stood at 19,047.
“So if each family in the new list prepared by the government has five members, this will add to 10 lakh new people which can be used as a vote bank,” Mehbooba said, adding that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will resist this “attack on their identity”.
“After reading down Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir is being treated like a war zone where our land, resources and employment opportunities are being looted like a war booty,” the PDP chief said.
Speaking with The Wire, a senior officer in J&K’s Rural Development Department said that the list of homeless people was prepared on the basis of SECC-2011.
“A new, non-SECC list was prepared in 2018-19 to include people that were left out of the 2011 survey for various reasons including migration, etc,” the official said, seeking anonymity, adding that more beneficiaries will be added to the list if a fresh survey was carried out.
The official said that 29,578 houses have been sanctioned in Kashmir under the scheme, out of which around 13,000 are at various phases of construction, about 4,000 have been completed while the rest have not been sanctioned yet.
“The remaining beneficiaries are in Jammu,” the official said. “The selection process is taken up by the Panchayats and the beneficiaries are allotted land after a rigorous process which involves scrutinising their domicile status, ration and Aadhaar cards among other documents.”
However, the issue of obtaining domicile certificates in Jammu and Kashmir and other documents such as ration cards has remained in the news for the wrong reasons. In 2015, the Crime Branch of J&K Police had filed a case after a non-local was found to have procured a Permanent Resident Certificate which was illegal when Jammu and Kashmir was a state under Article 370.
Omar Abdullah said that the government should first clear the doubts about the process used in identifying J&K’s homeless population. “Is the government counting those as homeless who came here just a week ago and are claiming land in J&K? Those who came to J&K after 2019 should not be part of this scheme,” he said.
The National Conference vice-president said that attempts have been made to settle migrants in Jammu and Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370. “If those people who have started living here recently are getting land, it will obviously create doubts in the minds of people,” he said.
The PDP chief said that J&K is a green belt but the government is pushing policies to “convert it into a slum”. “Instead of striving to improve the lives of citizens of J&K and getting investment, the government is importing poverty and slums into Jammu and Kashmir. We will not allow this to happen,” Mehbooba said, while addressing the media in Srinagar on July 5.
Comparing the decision of providing land to landless with a flood, Mehbooba said that it will affect Jammu first and Kashmir later.
“The flood will wash away opportunities for locals in Kathua, Reasi, Akhnoor and other parts of Jammu where most of the industrialists, vendors and even drivers are already outsiders. People of Jammu and Kashmir should come together and resist this decision,” she said.
Mehbooba said that a “dangerous game” was being played to usurp the resources of Jammu and Kashmir and deprive the locals of employment opportunities by the BJP-led Union government.
“The government has terminated leases of hotels in Gulmarg and Pahalgam with locals and given these hotels to non-locals. A dangerous game is being played to unpeople Jammu and Kashmir by settling migrants here,” she said.
The PDP chief said that the Union government has created an atmosphere of fear to prevent people from speaking out against its policies. “Why are you pushing us to the wall? J&K has been converted into a jail but now they want to turn it into a slum. We will resist this decision,” she said.