Kashmir Village, Celebrated For Its Pencil Success By PM Modi, Fighting Its ‘Survival’ Battle

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: Fearing a loss of livelihood, hundreds of residents from a Pulwama village are protesting against the government order of transferring land for the construction of a garrison for the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). This, they believe, would lead to an end of their decade-old source of income: farming and even eviction.

“We rely on these lands that we have been traditionally tiling even before 1971,” one elder resident, who led the villagers to Srinagar for a protest, said. “We have been paying the revenue tax and the government had laid Kashmir’s first lift irrigation plant for us.” He said after living in the village for generations, they have pushed into a survival crisis.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration on October 28, approved the transfer of state land for various purposes including over 65 acres in favour of the CRPF. Part of the village land is included in this approval transfer. The CRPF is supposed to have their camps and residential quarters at six places including Ookhu, the Pulwama village.

The transfer of land was made to establish battalion camping sites in south Kashmir’s Anantnag, Shopian and Pulwama. According to officials, permanent camps would be set up in the villages of Ookhu, Kadlabal, and Koil in Pulwama.

“If the government takes away this land, we have nothing left,” one elderly woman cried at the protest. “This land gives us two crops – mustard oilseeds and wheat and that we sell to have our rice.”

What is interesting is that Ookhu was in the limelight after Prime Minister, Narendra Modi praised the “pencil village of India”. In his Mann Ki Baat, he explained how the small villages make big contributions to India’s growth. It was apparently in follow up to Modi’s special mention that Pulwama was assigned the pencil as its key product for which the commerce ministry is planning a major intervention. Part of the contribution goes to the former Chief Secretary, B V Subramanian, who has moved to the ministry.

The village employs a few thousand people as it supplies more than two-thirds of the raw material to India’s major pencil makers and has helped reduce the country’s dependency on pencil wood from other nations.

The distinction, however, started fading as the local administration issued eviction notices to the residents. They have been advised against cultivating the land. In quick follow-up, the village broke into protests and it ended in a clash with the police.

Muhammad Sultan, a resident and a member of a local committee said that they have approached some BJP leaders and they have assured us that our lands will not be taken away. However, he like many other villagers is apprehensive as government officials are visiting the land for soil testing for future constructions.

“We have been cultivating the land for decades. Despite government orders to not cultivate the land, we have lately harvested paddy and have now planted mustard in the fields,” Sultan said.

Sultan said that during the late 1950s the land was divided among the people for cultivation. “Two irrigation canals were built during that time to make the land cultivable. The land records from 1971 clearly state who owns the land and how much of it is cultivated,” said Sultan.

However, in accordance with the 2007 regulations, revenue officials have classified the land as “barren”. Now the land will be transferred to CRPF against the payment as per the Stamp Duty rates notified for the year, 2021, an official statement read.

A Pencil Village

“We request the government to rescind orders of allocation of approximately 80 kanals of land for CRPF camps. Where will we go? We have no means of livelihood except farming? We have no government jobs or anything?” said Sultan.

On the other hand, the CRPF is literally on the heads of the civil administration for the proposed land in Ookhu and other villages. It has written to the Home Ministry for quick transfer of the allotted 65.5 acres of prime real estate to it. It has actually sought more land. In fact, the para-military forces have said that given the scale of deployment in the region, the CRPF would require more land for creating the accommodation infrastructure, a demand, reports said MHA is examining.

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