Land acquisition issue:

Army assured early resolution


Kashmir Magazine

Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Noor-ud-Din Rather (66), a resident of Buchroo village in central Kashmir’s district Budgam was not even born when his family land measuring 13 kanals (1.62 acre) located near Oil Airport area (KarewaDamodar) was taken into possession by the Indian Army way back in 1952. In addition to Noor-ud-Din’s family land, a huge chunk of land (500 acres approximately) belonging to hundreds of people from half a dozen villages was also taken into possession by the Army. Between 1975 to 1990 around 300 acres of land belonging to people from villages of Humhama, Gudsathoo and Lalgam in district Budgam was acquired by Airforce and Border Security Force (BSF) as well. The affected landowners were compensated for the same, but the villagers whose land is under possession of the Army are yet to be compensated. The process of land acquisition is not getting finalized for the last several decades even as the Union Cabinet has given the nod for this. A Recent meeting between representatives of land owners of KarewaDamodar Oil Airport , some social activists including this author with GOC 15 Corps Lt Gen ADS Aujla has generated optimism among 500 affected families. The officer assured that the matter would be addressed as he took up the matter with the Defence Estates Department.

As per the rate fixed by Deputy Commissioner/District Collector Budgam Noor-ud-Din was supposed to receive a payment of Rs 2.60 Crores as compensation money, but he was paid only Rs 73.68 Lakhs in 2014. The Government officials told him within six to seven months he would get the rest of the payment. It has now been more than 8 years, Noor-ud-Din has not received the remaining amount of Rs 18,640,00. Nooruddin isn’t the only farmer who is waiting for the compensation amount, but there are almost 500 such families whose land has been in possession with the Army but they have not been paid the compensation money.

KarewaDamodar:

The Srinagar International airport in KarewaDamodar area is located in the territorial jurisdiction of Budgam district. In-fact Budgam itself used to be a Tehsil of Srinagar district until 1978 when it was created as a separate district. The Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh had for the first time set up Airfield at KarewaDamodar around 1942.

The Karewas are small elevated tracts of plateaus that are spread across Kashmir valley in an area of approximately 2500 square kilometres. They are known as Wodder in Kashmiri language. When the first batch of Indian Army came to Kashmir on the request of Maharaja Hari Singh to fight tribal raiders from Pakistan (Kabalis), the Dakota plane carrying the soldiers had landed at the Airfield located at KarewaDamodar on October 27th 1947. Therefore the KarewaDamodar has a great historical importance as well. A big contingent of Army was guarding the Srinagar airport post 1947 and around 1952 Army took 484 acres of land at KarewaDamodar into their possession and from 1959 they used to pay annual rent to people through local Revenue Department officials.

As the local villagers lost control over the chunk of land under Army‘s control, the then Jammu & Kashmir Govt headed by Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad took up the matter with Govt of India. From 1959 onwards the Army started paying the annual rent to the aggrieved farmers for around 3879 kanals of land (484 acres). Initially the rent was fixed @ Rs 3 per kanal per annum (1 acre = 8 kanals), then it was increased to Rs 5 and the same was enhanced to Rs 1500 per kanal around 2005. From 2013 the payment of rent was stopped as the Govt of India decided to acquire the land. Around 2014 some part of the compensation (20 to 25%) was paid to landowners, but we have been waiting for the final compensation from the Govt of India since then. In-fact after article 370 abrogation we had hope that Govt will pay us compensation as per the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act 2013) wherein affected landowners are entitled to get 3 to 4 times more compensation of land, but unfortunately the affected people were not even paid Rs 20 per kanal which is one fourth of the market rate in the area.

The legal battle:

As the villagers from Kralpora, Wathoora, Rangreth and other areas lost their prime land they decided to seek judicial intervention. The farmers were not even satisfied with the annual rent they were being paid. The land located just outside the airport area became highly costly as several residential colonies were set up in Humhama and Rangreth. During 1995-96 land in nearby Huhmama was sold and purchased @ Rs 30 to 35 lakhs per kanal and a kanal of land would fetch rent @ Rs 10,000 to 15000 per year as rent, but in case of land that was under occupation of Army inside KarewaDamodar (located only 20 to 30 meters away), the farmers/landowners were paid mere Rs 1000 or 1100 per kanal per year? The agitated farmers formed an association called Zamindaran Committee KarewaDamodar who filed a Writ Petition before the Jammu & Kashmir High Court under OWP No 292 / 1998. The High Court on 22.12.2003 gave a landmark judgement directing the Government to derequisition the entire land under section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act 1968 (RAIP Act ) as it was already under requisition with the Army for many decades. The Govt also put the ball in Govt of India’s court to acquire the land in case they didn’t go for handing over the land back to its owners (derequisition).

Aggrieved by the Judgement, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) challenged the order before J&K High Court Division Bench in 2004 under LPA No 22/ 2004 titled Union of India and others V/S Zamindaran Committee KarewaDamodar. The Division Bench of J&K High Court pronounced a judgement on 23.07.2009 wherein the previous judgement was dismissed and order came in favour of respondents i.e Ministry of Defence and others.

The Zamindaran Committee didn’t give up and we went to the Supreme Court to challenge the J & K High Court division bench order. A special leave petition was filed in 2009 under SLP-C No 19984 /2009 and the Supreme Court referred the case back to J&K High Court, who directed the Govt of India to pay a fair amount of annual rent to the farmers or acquire the land. The Defence Estates Department (DED) decided to acquire land , but was ready to pay only Rs 1.23 lakhs per kanal as compensation. This was unacceptable to affected people who continued the struggle.

The official communication and negotiations continued between the Government of J&K and Central Govt who finally agreed to enhance the compensation money from Rs 1.23 lakhs to 6 to 7 lakhs per kanal. Some payment @ Rs 4.80 lakhs per kanal was made in 2013.The discussion and deliberations continued further until the Govt of India agreed to pay Rs 18 to 20 lakh per kanal as compensation (Rs 18 lakhs for un irrigated land and Rs 20 lakhs for irrigated land)

Land had a higher value:

The Deputy Commissioner Budgam in his written communication makes it clear that market value of land was much higher (Rs 50 to 60 lakhs per kanal) and had the Airfield not been developed on KarewaDamodar it would have been one of the posh residential colonies in view of being located in the close vicinity of Srinagar city.

 

Conclusion

To bring the matter into notice of Army’s top brass, they listened to the aggrieved persons very keenly. They gave assurance to concern people that the matter would be addressed soon.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Kashmir based activist and writer. He is a Senior Fellow (Climate Action) Anant National University Ahmedabad.

 


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