Srinagar: Upping the ante, opposition parties based in Kashmir have asked the administration to halt the ongoing anti-encroachment drive, which has cast a new spell of fear and anguish across the union territory.
Amid widespread rumours that land excavators have been fanned out by the administration to all the districts of Kashmir for carrying out sweeping demolition drives, the Opposition parties have demanded a white paper on the issue.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha’s repeated assurances that only those who misused power to grab the state land are going to be targeted, has done little to allay popular fears with daily reports of demolition drives keeping people of the union territory on the edge.
The purported removal of a detailed survey of the status of land in Kashmir from the official website of Divisional Commissioner (Kashmir) has only deepened the anxieties. The survey was reportedly carried out by J&K’s Revenue Department in 2001 to pave the way for the implementation of the Roshni Act and its mysterious disappearance from the website has the opposition accusing the administration of arbitrarily targeting people for political reasons.
Under the Roshni Act, 20.46 lakh kanals of state land were identified in 2001 for transfer of ownership to private individuals against a premium which was expected to raise Rs 25,000 crore. The J&K government had said that the money would be used for building hydropower projects. The act was scrapped by the High Court in 2018, even though several petitions are pending in the HC against the decision.
A 12-page PDF document purported to show the names of house owners, shopkeepers, hoteliers and other business establishments built on encroached government land in Srinagar. The documents circulated on WhatsApp and other social messaging platforms, triggering panic in the summer capital However, the administration termed it as fake.
‘People are being terrorised’
Speaking with reporters in Srinagar on Monday, February 7, former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that a number of lists of alleged encroachments are circulating on social media platforms. He said that one such list shows that his house on Gupkar Road in Srinagar, National Conference office, Governor’s House, UN office and many other prominent buildings have been constructed on encroached land.
“This list has disappeared and another is in public domain now. The situation has left everyone anguished. The administration has told the court that these lists are fake, so we want to know the basis on which the bulldozers are being fanned out across J&K to terrorise people,” Omar said.
The National Conference vice-president alleged that the administration was not following the legal formalities involved in anti-encroachment drives, “I have been getting several phone calls where the properties of people who claim to have legitimate documents were demolished without getting any notice.”
“There is no list. Legal formalities are not fulfilled. No notice is served (to land occupants). Is there no law in J&K? Is there nothing called procedure? Are you trying to create a lawless society where who wields the stick owns the buffalo? People are being terrorised to keep silent or else be prepared to face the bulldozer,” Omar claimed.
He said that the anti-encroachment drive was turning into a money-minting business, “People are getting phone calls that they have built their homes on state land. They are being asked to pay up so that their names are removed from the list and they won’t be touched. Is it not the administration’s responsibility to come clean on the issue?” he said.
Urging the administration to stop the demolition drive, Omar said that the use of bulldozer for retrieving encroached land should be the last resort, not the first option, “We are not in favour of land encroachment, but there should be an official list of encroachments and people should get a chance to regularise the land under their occupation and the government should come out with a scheme,” he said.
Omar alleged that the eviction drive was being arbitrarily implemented with the Muslim majority regions in Jammu being selectively targeted to create communal division in the union territory. Five persons were arrested on Monday after three cops sustained injuries in a stone pelting incident during a demolition drive in Jammu’s Narwal area on Sunday.
‘No notices are being served’
Since the anti-encroachment drive was launched earlier this year, the J&K administration has reportedly retrieved more than 14 lakh kanals of state and grazing land occupied in different parts of the union territory. Prominent public figures who have been targeted in the drive include Omar’s relatives and his party colleagues, a number of former J&K ministers, including from the BJP, PDP and Congress, retired civil and police administration officials, businessmen and others.
Chairman of Peoples Conference, Sajad Lone, also said that the administration was carrying out the eviction drive arbitrarily, “Not a day passes when the houses of poor people are not being demolished. No notices are being served. No legal procedure is being followed. The law of the land can’t be violated like this,” Sajad said addressing a press conference on Monday.
The Peoples Conference chairman alleged that the administration was “trying to humiliate” the people of Kashmir, “Has the government of India retrieved land occupied by people in other parts of the country? Ninety five per cent of encroachers in J&K are Muslims while a few others have been thrown into the list to make it look like a fair exercise,” Sajad said, urging the administration to “get out of arrogant mode” and stop the eviction drive.
Equating the demolition drive in J&K with Israel’s action to occupy Palestinian land, Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti accused the BJP-led Union government of “behaving like East India Company,” saying that the anti-encroachment drive was turning J&K into Afghanistan.
“The way the houses of poor people are being demolished with bulldozers, they are turning Kashmir into Afghanistan. What does the administration intend to achieve out of this? The situation is not normal in Kashmir. Tourists go to Palestine also, does that mean all is well there,” she said in Delhi.
Ive requested all national Opposition leaders to raise the issue of GOIs demolition drive across J&K against its own people in the garb of ‘reclaiming state land’ from ‘encroachers’. No notices are served & neither do they accept proof of ownership. Simply inhuman & unjust. https://t.co/mHoxxpxCAq
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) February 6, 2023
“Ive requested all national Opposition leaders to raise the issue of GOIs demolition drive across J&K against its own people in the garb of ‘reclaiming state land’ from ‘encroachers’. No notices are served & neither do they accept proof of ownership. Simply inhuman & unjust (sic),” she said in a tweet.
In a statement last week, moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar, who is under house arrest for more than three years, said that the demolition drive was distressing for the people of Kashmir. “It is seriously impacting the life and livelihood of people. One after other persecutory measures are being taken to dispossess people and make them helpless,” a Hurriyat spokesperson, quoting Mirwaiz, said.
Meanwhile, The Resistance Front, a militant outfit which has claimed responsibility for a series of targeted attacks on Kashmiri Pandits and migrant workers, has also threatened to target the officials involved in the demolition drive.
In a purported statement, the outfit said that it will target “mute spectators” (employees) in the Revenue department involved in the anti-encroachment drive. “…[F]rom peon to the clerk to Patwari, Naib Tehsildar or Tehsildar or DC. Involved or not. Whosoever is working in this department (Revenue) is on the target list,” the TRF’s said.