Thursday, February 25, 2021

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After Statehood Promise, This Is Modi-Governments Next Big Step In Jammu & Kashmir

Post the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi-Government has begun a crackdown on encroachments trying to recover 1 lakh hectares of occupied land from the volatile region. EurAsian Times get you an exclusive report from Scroll.

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The BJP Government which had earlier scrapped article 370 that granted special autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir so as to integrate it with the rest of the country seems to be leaving no stone unturned to try and put it on the same footing with the remaining parts of India.

After cracking down on terrorists, the Centre has begun another crackdown, albeit different this time, concerning with the eviction of land encroachers. After splitting the former state into two Union Territories, the Indian Government has decided to reclaim at least 1 lakh hectares of encroached state land and village commons by the end of this month, according to scroll.in.

Revenue department officials that spoke to the portal told that about 65% of this landfalls is in the Jammu division. “Out of the total 20 lakh kanal [1 lakh hectares] or so, 14-15 lakh kanal [70,000 hectares-75,000 hectares] have been retrieved and illegal entries against this land in revenue records have been expunged,” said Pawan Kotwal, principal secretary, department of revenue. In other words, the people in possession of the land have been ordered to vacate.

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In Jammu and Kashmir, the land is classified as private or individual property, state-owned land and village commons, which include grazing land. Gradually, much of the state-owned land and village commons were occupied by local residents, although very little of it was used for habitation.

Over the time, these encroachments became permanent. In rare cases, Kotwal said, encroachers started construction on the land, with the complicity of local revenue officials. These structures would also be removed.

A senior official in the revenue department, speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “If someone encroached on state land, it was not unknown to revenue officials.” “In fact, it was a revenue official likes the patwari [village registrar] who would mark the encroachment on state land as an ‘illegal possession’ in the records but he didn’t prevent or force the encroacher to vacate the state land,” he added.

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Under the existing land laws, local revenue officials are empowered to conduct inquiries on suspected encroachments on commons, eject encroachers and impose fines of up to Rs 200. Many in the administration are of the view that such widespread and long-term encroachment could have been only possible with the help and knowledge of corrupt revenue officials.

‘Updating revenue records’

The scale of the encroachment came to light after an audit of land records was ordered by the administration headed by former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik last year.

“This is basically a record-cleaning exercise,” said Kotwal. “At the same time, we are also updating our revenue records. The purpose is that these illegal entries which existed in the records previously, shouldn’t figure in the new record.”

Most of the encroached land is part of village commons like graveyards, cremation grounds, temple and mosque lands and grazing land. A Srinagar based patwari who is aware of the functioning of the system explained that patwaris are meant to provide reports of state land or commons under encroachment in a particular village to revenue officials at the tehsil level and once these details are provided, the Tehsildar or Naib Tehsildar issues the order to expunge these illegal entries from the records.

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He further said that after the deletion of illegal entries, eviction notices are sent to these encroachers and they are told to vacate the land within a certain period of time, failing which they are held responsible for all damages that have accrued till the time revenue officials arrive to retrieve it.

The village headmen were in charge of watching that the retrieved land was not occupied again.

The Srinagar district administration recently in a statement said it had expunged all “illegal possession” entries for encroached government and grazing lands from the revenue records. “The illegal entries have been cancelled and expunged for all 34,238 kanals [approximately 1,732 hectares] of encroached land across all seven tehsils of the district”. It also said that the eviction notices were being issued to 17,873 illegal occupants in the district.

Post special status

The officials said that the auditing exercise appears to have gained pace after August 5, when the Centre stripped Jammu and Kashmir of special status and process of identifying encroached land and evicting those occupying it is now nearing completion. “We are hopeful of completing this exercise by the end of this month,” said Kotwal. “It is on across all the 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory.”

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With article 370 abrogated, the land previously owned by the state government is now in the Centre’s possession. In furtherance of its objective, the land laws have also been amended to strike out clauses restricting the ownership of private property to Kashmiri residents.

In addition, the administration has also been creating land banks from which plots will be given out on long-term leases to investors from outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Backlog and digitisation

The revenue department personnel of Jammu and Kashmir point out that the scale of encroachment would not be this large if land records had regularly been audited and updated.

“There are jamabandis which go back to the 1940s,” Kotwal said. The jamabandi for a village usually contains the list of local landholders and tenants, with details of fields, rents paid by each tenant and land revenue paid by each landholder. It is meant to be updated every four years.

 “It is for the first time that these jamabandis are being updated across the Union Territory,” Kotwal said. “As far as land record management is concerned, other states are far ahead of Jammu and Kashmir. In the rest of India, land record management is quite advanced. Our Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu is very keen that we update our records and digitise them.”

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The digitisation of land records was started in 2015, in what was then the state of Jammu and Kashmir, under the Central government’s Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme. That was before the Ladakh division of the former state was sectioned off as a separate Union Territory. As of February 6, 2020, 92% of land records in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir had been digitised. The process is likely to be completed by the end of March 2021.

While encroachers are to be expelled, Kotwal assured that erring revenue officials would also be brought to book. “There’s no escaping,” he said. “The bulk of them might have retired now but that doesn’t exempt them from their duties.” Especially stringent action would be taken in cases where revenue officials permitted illegal constructions on encroached land, he said.

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