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J&K Parties Emphasise Eviction Drive Puts Tens of Thousands at Risk, Seek Safeguards

Anees Zargar |
The Jammu and Kashmir government drew massive flak after it issued the order on January 9 directing all district officials to remove all encroachments on the state land by January 31, 2023.

Image for representational purpose. Credit: Kashmir Reader

Srinagar: Political parties are trying hard to convince the Jammu and Kashmir administration that the ongoing drive to remove encroachments and vacate tens of thousands from the state land including Roshni Land and Kahcharai will impact mostly poor families and lead to more economic problems in the region. 

The Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC) president Sajad Lone wrote a letter to Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha urging him to issue a formal order for the poor and marginalised communities so they can be differentiated against those who are involved in a land grab.

“I am writing to you to request you to issue a formal, unambiguous order, which spares the poor and makes a distinction between possession borne out of necessity and possession borne out of land grab,” the letter read.

Sajad’s request comes in the backdrop of a recent commitment by the LG who assured that “common masses and poor people” wouldn’t be ‘touched’ during the drive to retrieve state land from encroachers.

A day later, on Friday, the Supreme Court of India also refused to stay the move as it was hearing a petition against the order issued by the J&K administration.

"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 the benefit," the bench orally told the counsel of J&K.

Lone, however, argued that in absence of a formal order, it is the poor who are being “touched”. Imran Nabi Dar of the National Conference party also acknowledged that on the ground it is the poor and marginalised who are bearing the brunt of the government’s action.

“They are doing it in a hurry and it seems they have not put any effort into it. The LG has said that poor families will not be touched but, on the ground, we are seeing that the officials have only gone after poor families,” Imran told NewsClick

The Jammu and Kashmir government drew massive flak after it issued the order on January 9 directing all district officials to remove all encroachments on the state land by January 31, 2023. There have been many protests as well in the midst of increasing fears over ‘dispossession’.

The administration has been claiming that big encroachers including hoteliers have been identified across the region as they have warned of punitive action against those who fail to vacate the encroached land. Over 34,000 have been named in the list of encroachers from North Kashmir’s Baramulla district while in Srinagar nearly 7,000 have been named as encroachers of the state land.

Lone, who argued that the possession in the rural areas is “borne out of necessity”, said that it is a practice which has gone on unhindered for decades and that no government ever challenged it because it made J&K a unique state, where there is almost negligible homelessness.

“The vast majority of possession in the rural areas comprises of small land holdings, with a humble house made by the owners. The land will be of no use to the government. But they will make a poor family homeless,” he wrote. 

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M Y Tarigami also believes that the court order or the administration's assertion over small farmers is not being implemented on the ground.

“Unfortunately, the facts are different on the ground. If we visit the Ganderbal area where the administration has issued certain directions claiming they have achieved the target of land retrieval, it is the small-scale farmers who have been evicted,” Tarigami said. 

He added that it is happening in many other places of the union territory like Kathua, Poonch and Pulwama where the revenue department is up in arms against the farmers or those who have small homes constructed on common land or State land.

The administration has so far said that it retrieved around 20,000 kanal from various districts including over 4,000 kanal from Kupwara, 236 kanal from Baramulla, 983 kanal from Ganderbal and about 13,883 kanal in Kathua.

Many have expressed concerns as authorities revoked the rights of communities to cultivate the state, which comes amidst the apprehensions that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is working to disempower Kashmiris and engineer a demographic change, a claim the ruling party denies.  

Imran considers that the revocation of rights over agricultural and horticulture land is more “worrying”. “People have worked and invested on these lands for decades now. The administration is axing 50-year-old trees which have sustained many economically. It is an unjust way of snatching this land that was barren and given to people. The land has passed to generations,” Imran said.

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