Decades of indifference

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More than 100 families purchased residential plots from J&K housing board in Islamabad town in south Kashmir, however,  the plots were occupied by army in early ‘90’s. The government vacated the plots later but handed it over to south campus of Kashmir university. Azad Dar reports.

Ali Muhammad Najar carries a file of documents substantiating his ownership claim, and of 116 families, on what were supposed to be their residential plots in Fatehgarh Islamabad in south Kashmir. In the file are notifications from J&K Housing Board, payment slips, related documents, and a number of gate passes of the civil secretariat.

Najar and others bought the plots from J&K Housing Board when the government decided to develop Kadipora Housing Colony on 804 kanals of a small plateau overlooking the main town.

Their plots are now out of bounds for them, with most of the land under south campus of Kashmir university, and a part under army.  Najar is the president of Kadipora Housing Colony Plot Holders Association, formed by the dispossessed land owners, who after years of watching their dream plots occupied by the army, had to see a beautiful university campus  come up at the site, once the government got it partly vacated from army.

The story began a few years before the outbreak of militancy in Kashmir, with J&K Housing Board procuring the land for the colony.

“In the year 1988 the Jammu and Kashmir Housing Board purchased about 804 kanals of land at Fatehgarh,” says Najar as he scans through the pages of his file. “The aim of the acquisition was to develop Kadipora Housing Colony that was conceived earlier by Mirza Afzal Beigh, who dreamt of a model colony with modern facilities.”

From the acquired land 1084 plots were carved out. The plots were notified for allotment by the Housing Board and were distinguished into three types depending on the income of families and size of plot.

The three types of plots were priced at Rupees 7000, 10000 and 21,000 each.

“Among the plots available 116 plots were allotted and the respective letters of intent were issued in their favour for construction of houses upon payment of the cost,” says Khurshid Ahmed Malyari, a retired lecturer, showing a possession slip for Plot No.4 issued in his favour by the housing board.

Ghulam Mohammad Hakeem, a teacher, carries a similar possession slip for Plot No. 709.  “All plots were applied for and some 116 plots were fully paid for by people like me because we wanted the possession as quickly as possible as we were in acute need”.

“We could easily get two to three kanals of land on K P Road for the sum we deposited for 1 kanal in the proposed colony, as then it cost only five thousand rupees per kanal as against today’s twenty lakh,” Hakeem adds.

After the allotments, which came after fulfilling all required formalities, some of the people started constructions. A few had raised structures to some extent while many others were busy dumping the construction material in their plots.

Abdul Majid Dar, another plot holder say he took a loan from J&K Bank through Housing Board to procure construction material, which he began dumping at his Plot No. 461.

The construction activities that were going on at the site in full swing suddenly came to a halt in 1990, when the army occupied the land to take advantage of the security and the view that the plateau offered.

“The progress for development of the colony stopped big time and the plot holders were left high and dry,” says Najar. There was little that the landowners could do, except be mute spectators. For years, there was no one who could hear their grievance, and or redress it.

After Mufti Muhammad Sayeed took over as chief minister in 2002, he started efforts to get the land vacated from army. In 2004, during a Civil Liaison Conference (29.05.2004), finally, a decision for evacuation was taken and the process of handing over possession of the land by army to the housing board began.

“We heaved a sigh of relief but only to see ourselves more helpless than ever before,” says another plot holder, referring to the short lived hopes that the vacation of their plots from army had raised.

The formal possession of the land by Housing Board was yet to complete when the then chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, sought the transfer of 259 Kanals of the land to the University of Kashmir’s South Campus. In response to the government request communicated through Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir (Div.Com/LAS-TOL/ (351)747/2004 dated: 20.10.2004) the Managing Director of Housing Board expressed “no objection” to the transfer (HB-CS/204-12 dated 15.06.2006).

Before the Kadipora plot holders could wink, the land was transferred to university for construction of its south campus.

“The irony is that government thought it apt to make us homeless as a cost of having the South Campus of University,” says Malyari.

Septuagenarian Bashir Ahmed Bhat, who says he borrowed the money for payment of the plot from a relative adds, “We fail to understand why government made us to suffer and how they resold the same land twice, once to us and then to the university.”

The short lived jubilation gave way to a fresh struggle.

Najar says they tried their best to prevent the transfer.

“We knocked every possible door to prevent the transfer of our land, but perhaps the word from the king was stronger than our pleas,” says the president who remembers his visits to the civil secretariat that year by counting the gate passes which he has preserved.

“Mufti sahib silenced us then by promising us resettlement within a very short time,” he adds.

Reigns changed, from Mufti Sayeed to Ghulam Nabi Azad, to Omar Abdullah. The plot holders kept their hopes alive, and their struggle on.

From his file, Najar fetches some printouts of complaints filed with the online grievance cell started by chief minister Omar Abdullah. “The shock we got in response to compliant No. 6401 was that instead of earlier 259 kanals, now 349.4 kanals were shown as transferred to University and remaining 554.6 shown as under army, and the complaint was disposed off,” says Najar.

Another plot holder interrupts, “We have been left under open sky to die unattended. Most (80 per cent he says) of the people to whom the plots were allotted have died in last 23 years. Perhaps they are waiting for all of us to die so that there is none to ask for the land,” he says.

Najar says the officers in the civil secretariat hardly understand their problem. “The babus confuse the land as vacant land that it was under army and now has been transferred to University,” explains Najar. “We spend the summer at secretariat making them to understand that the land belongs to us and during winter they seem to forget it all”.

The confusions about the plot have even surfaced in the Legislative Assembly when in response to a question from Mehboob Beigh (then MLA Islamabad and son of Afzal Beigh), the government said that the plot holders were being paid the rent for their land.

“The blue eyed men who had been given free plots under some other scheme get the rent that we were alleged to be receiving,” exclaims Muhammad Younis Najar.
“We have been cheated and we want justice,” say the plot holders in unison. “We are treated like liars, we have paid in full for the land in advance and they are least concerned about our lives,” said another.

Ghulam Muhammad Hakeem says that while they are being denied their right, government is developing newer colonies.

“Only some time ago we learnt that some land was being seen for some colony at Checki Pehro nearby but as of now nobody bothers to tell us what they are planning about us,” says Hakeem.

Deputy General Manager J&K Housing Board, Aftab Rashid Pandith confirmed to Kashmir Life that the board had acquired land at Fatehgarh and sold it to people. He said in 2004, 250 kanals of this land were vacated by army and was given for south university campus.

Asked about the plot holders, he said, “The government has as of now accepted to either give us land or compensation for those who had been allotted the land, this is our win (victory) because finally government has accepted,” he said.

Pandith added that some more land under army occupation may get vacated, “The matter is now between government and defense, it will take some time.”
However, he admitted that “no immediate relief can be promised” to the plot holders.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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