BY BASIT FAROOQ
Kashmir is known for its beauty around the world, and is used as symbolic representation of heaven, having green lush forests and snow capped mountains with pure and clean water and air. However, the green cover, and the beauty are in danger due to illegal constructions by way of encroachments on government land, village commons and even in green belts.
The development and progress is wished for by each society, and in one sense it is the construction, establishment and emergence of new buildings, institutions and markets which marks the beginning of new era of Development and prosperity,. Jammu and Kashmir like other regions is also in the race of development and the pace is very decent, however, in the disguise of development, there are many illegal constructions happening in the valley and also in Jammu Division.
The frequent clampdowns and strikes have helped people to get hold of public land illegally and apparently these Builders are the only people who have illegally enriched the benefits from it. The land in Jammu and Kashmir is classed under three categories: private or individual property, state-owned land and village commons: which include graveyards, cremation grounds, temple and mosque lands and grazing land. Over time, much of the state-owned land and village commons have been occupied by local residents and people in power, although very little of it is used for habitation but there are many illegal constructions.
The Report put forward before the then Governor, Satya pal Malik, after an audit of land was ordered by the administration, shows that there are Lakhs of hectares of Government land and Village Commons which have been encroached in Jammu and Kashmir. One Hectare of land is equal to 2.47 Acres while as an acre is equal to 43,560 sq. feet of land, implying the huge Mafia taking place. While, the Revenue officials are responsible for making entries about the record of the land and the existent Laws empower the officials to take action against the possible encroachments, and even issue notices of Eviction with imposition of fines and demolition of houses, there still have been more than huge continuous encroachments. The revenue officials like Patwaris would routinely mark the encroachment on land but would never stop it from happening, signifying a big void in the working atmosphere of the Revenue Department.
Patwaris are meant to provide reports of state land or commons under encroachment in a particular village to revenue officials at the Tehsil level. After the details, the Tehsildar or Naib Tehsildar issues the order to expunge these illegal entries from the records and eviction notices are sent to these encroachers. They are told to vacate the land within a certain period of time, failing which they will be responsible for all damages when revenue officials come to retrieve it. However, while entries have been removed from the documents, the possessions have never been effectuated.
The Existent Laws empower the Revenue officials to conduct inquiries on suspected encroachments on village commons, eject encroachers and impose fines. But, the implementation of the law and the working of the authorities has been callous and pathetic so far, evident from such a huge encroachment. The authority must ensure that the cognizance of such encroachments is taken into record at the very first instance, however, a post construction demolition (that too in exceptional cases) doesn’t mean an effective and a vibrant approach and implementation of law, in other words amounting to a complete waste of economic set up at large.
The question arises as to why did the administration take so long in mapping the government land and village commons? While people argue that there is lot of corruption within the lobby and a legal voice could be shut by showing the cards of money, implying a Quid Pro Quo deal. Many officials believe that such a huge encroachment could have been prevented, had there been no corruption at the very lower level in the Revenue Department.
While Government has its job to do, there are certain duties on the people also, to refrain from encroaching on the land. People construct houses on the banks of rivers; flood channels are filled to pave way for construction, the size of Lakes: Dal and Wular Lake is continuously shrinking due to much pollution and construction activities on its banks and thus during floods there is nothing to rescue the destruction and collapse of system, as is evident from 2014 floods. The destruction which Kashmir witnessed during 2014 floods could have deterred people that there has to be a free natural ecological system and Sustainable development is need of the hour, however, the clampdown of 2019 after abrogation of Article 370 increased the speed of illegal constructions and people started constructions in Green Belts with a rapid pace. The authorities have been in deep slumber and the Doctrine of “Public Trust” isn’t adhered to by the authorities. The influential people are benefitting from these activities and it appears that there is a strong link between two sides. The said Doctrine says that the state is trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment and must take care of these natural resources, simultaneously, Right to Environment(including the entire flora and fauna with an inter-relation of forests and land) is Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Administration by not intervening into the matter at the earliest gives a clear indication about the malafide exercise of power for petty gains.
A report has revealed that Lakhs of Kanals of land have been illegally encroached and while the entries have been removed officially, however, the land has been restored by the government only on documents and not practically. While The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (vesting of ownership to the occupants) Act, 2001 also known as Roshini Act was passed to transfer the state land to its occupants at the payment of costs determined by the government based on market prices, and the cut off time for encroachment on government land was set as 1990.The revenue so collected was to be otherwise used for hydroelectricity projects, however, the subsequent governments under PDP and State INC in the erstwhile state relaxed the cut off period to 2004 and to 2007 respectively. The land was transferred to the occupants and in many cases illegally without any cost, signifying, corruption within the political and administrative doors. The occupants of erstwhile state land in 1958 Kharif were given tenancy rights by virtue of government notification LB-6 and vide notification S-432, these tenants of the state agricultural land were given proprietary rights except right to Alienation. However, a major scam happened and due to corruption within the lobby, mutations were made under S-432 even in favor of unborn persons.
Similarly, after Agrarian Reforms Act, 1970, the government put a ban on the LB-6 and mutations under S-432; however, The Congress CM after taking charge in 2005 removed this ban and allowed illegal transfer of state land to occupants.
While a duty is imposed upon an individual to not encroach upon the government land, a lot has to be done by the state simultaneously, corruption has diluted the structure of government departments and there is a need to rejuvenate the system for the better governance. While, the administration has passed many orders for digitization of land records and mapping of the Government land, it must ensure that Corruption is a bacterium infecting the system from within, and sadly and ironically no outside force can help it. The rights in the government land belong to the general people, the tourist resorts are public property and no official can trade it for its own interests and administrative affairs.
The Author is Final year student of law at School of Law, University of Kashmir and can be reached at [email protected]