Kashmir’s New Landmarks

   

In an apparent overdrive to reclaim the landed assets, encroached upon over the years, the Jammu and Kashmir administration moved bulldozers and created a series of images redefining the writ of the state. Within days more than half a million kanals were reclaimed including some patches from the influential and powerful. The scale of the operation triggered fear, chaos and a ferocious reaction. Masood Hussain reports the campaign, its consequences and the unseen flip side  

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A septuagenarian, Ramzan is one of the respected village elders. Considered a wise man, residents usually seek his advice on almost everything from village welfare to the marriages of their wards. Owing to orthopaedic problems, he rarely comes to pray at the mosque during winter. However, the 2023 Chilai Kalanwas proved different – he never missed the Jamaat, the join prayer.

“He is somehow managing to join prayers because he is in panic. His last purchase was a piece of land, a steep slope that he converted into a fine apple orchard,” one of his distant cousins, said. “Now, he is told that the man from whom he purchased the piece of land on a ‘power of attorney’ basis has been an encroachment on land by its earlier owner, somewhere in the late seventies.”

Apprehensive that he may book losses in the last major decision of his life, Ramzan barely misses a post-prayer sitting in the mosque Hamam. He listens to every bit of information that youth extract from their cell phones. He has visited the patwari many times but the apprehensions remain.

Unlike the panic in the city and towns is somehow getting to the small and big screens, the crisis that has inflicted the villages is like invisible cancer stem cells. In Poonch’s Surankot, a resident was reported dead from a heart attack a day after he was served an eviction notice.

“The revenue department issued a public notice on encroachments and I was shocked to see my 2.7 kanal patch of land in it,” a medical doctor from a south Kashmir village said. “When I visited the office with documents conclusively proving that the piece of land belonged to my family for at least a century and that we have been paying land revenue even decades before the partition of India, the officials said sorry. One senior official said they were in a panic because they were under tremendous pressure from high-ups to issue the list. They assured of correction but a week has gone by and the list is still in circulation.”

This doctor, who has served the government and society for almost half a century is facing the same crisis that Safia Abdullah, Dr Farooq Abdullah’s daughter, talked about after a “list” sent her to approach the High Court, only to be told that it was “fake”.

“For weeks we have been vilified in the public domain as encroachers,” Safia later said. “I went to court against the government and all I wanted was for our valid live lease to be acknowledged and for our three homes to be taken off the encroachment list. I achieved my aim.” Unlike Safia’s lease, the doctor has the inherited property land but may never go to court to get the same relief.

Roshni: Applications, Land, Transfer
Land Regularised
District Applications (No)* Land Involved (Kanals)* Kanal# Marla Amount Recived (Rs Lakhs)#
Rajouri 25628 348300 6529 71.79
Ramban 8281 120242 18383 18 103.58
Reasi 8676 174357 13380 1 29.69
Kishtwar 6821 42169 10048 16 16.26
Samba 7539 78443 2537 7 213.6
Udhampur 10033 152416 10614 10 131.86
Doda 14212 145306 35425 2 59.94
Poonch 22700 129523 6597 5 6.63
Jammu 25009 164385 44912 12 1597.01
Kathua 18530 121843 10023 11 33.52
Total Jammu 147429 1476984 158448 2263.88
Anantnag 17069 33710 962 19 36.697
Srinagar 14467 39069 375 10 5217.21
Budgam 14403 4007 1929 39.688
Ganderbal 5725 12028 579 11 5.849
Pulwama 14145 47457 745 16 41.73
Baramulla 11950 52220 382 19 15.56
Kulgam 5283 14577 433 3 6.768
Shopian 5462 13180 386 2 5.54
Bandipore 7150 29488 6415 11 25.51
Kupwara 10701 31322 1520 9 32.64
Total Kashmir 106355 277058 13726 5427.192
Jammu Kashmir 253784 1790105 172244 7691.07
* Revenue Ministry in Jammu and Kashmir assembly on February 19, 2014
# Revenue Ministry in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on January 30, 2018

The Campaign

Preventing encroachments and evicting encroachers has been a permanent feature of all successive governments. However, there was no total focus on it ever.

The ongoing campaign actually started in Pulwama in early 2020. As if in war, the administration would move with a bunch of bulldozers to specific markets, assemble the shop-owners, get them to empty their shops constructed on state land, and demolish them in a tight cordon of police and paramilitary forces. In one drive, 29 shops were razed to the ground for paving way for widening the road. In another one, that took place at 6:30 am on March 4, 2020, 50 shops were demolished in Tral. On November 10, as many as 17 structures were razed to the ground in Awantipora. All the shops were constructed illegally but no one got any chance to negotiate or justify the possession.

In Udhampur, a field with standing crops has now a state land sign broad installed. Image DIPR

The campaign, however, froze in Pulwama apparently after the security grid detected tensions having the potential of escalating around. Though demolitions are routine for the Lakes and Water Management Authority (LAWMA), the evictions and demolitions were revived at a much bigger scale only in December 2022 when the Jammu and Kashmir administration decided that all encroachments on state land will be removed within three months.

Directions were finally issued on January 9, 2023, asking the revenue officials to ensure full retrieval of encroached land by January 31, 2023. They were asked to submit daily reports so that the government will have a clear picture of the progress of the initiative. All allied departments were asked to help revenue officials to ensure the campaign’s success. The irrigation department and the Evacuees Department which also owns substantial land patches were also asked to reclaim their assets.

The directions came days after two specific exercises were carried out by the revenue department. In the first exercise, the landed properties in possession of the major separatists were scrutinised. In the second one, assets owned by unionist mainstreamers across Jammu and Kashmir were examined by revenue officials at ground zero.

The campaign got a huge morale booster on January 31, 2023, when a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna refused to grant any relief to petitioners seeking a halt to counter encroachment campaign. “If we protect your possession, it will affect the entire Jammu and Kashmir encroachment!” the court observed.“At the most, we can grant you reasonable time to relocate.”

Waste Lands In Jammu and Kashmir
District Kanals
Rajouri 125174
Ramban 27395
Reasi 39852
Kishtwar 99470
Samba 114445
Udhampur 204857
Doda 46548
Poonch 31219
Jammu 14314
Kathua 448272
Total Jammu 1151546
Anantnag 100824
Srinagar 0
Budgam 109136
Ganderbal 62488
Pulwama 71512
Baramulla 239736
Kulgam 0
Shopian 51664
Bandipore 0
Kupwara 410504
Total Kashmir 1045864
Jammu Kashmir 2197410
Source: Revenue Ministry Jammu and Kashmir response in assembly on March 8, 2012

The Outcome

Nobody in Jammu and Kashmir is offering details about the net outcome of the campaign so far. One newspaper report on February 6, reported that 15 lakh kanals of state and kahcharie land including seven lakh kanals from Kashmir has been retrieved even as seven lakh more is to be cleared in the coming days. A day later, another newspaper reported that only 3.89 lakh kanals of land – 2,16,683 kanals of state land and 1,72,907 kanals of Kahcharai – was retrieved from the encroachers mostly politicians, their relatives and retired bureaucrats from across Kashmir valley and 2.74 lakh kanals – 1,41,587 kanals of state land and 1,31,459 kanals of Kahcharai land is yet to be retrieved.

Regardless of the quantum of land retrieved, the names that appeared were only of those who are in public life. On the eve of Republic Day, NC leader Ali M Sagar’s Humhama mansion’s annexe housing his security detail was demolished. His wife owned 3.18 kanals but had encroached upon 2 kanals that the family did not own.

In January 2023, a bulldozer was in operation in Shopian where a shopping complex owned by an erstwhile minister was demolished. Authorities said it was illegal construction and the land was owned by the state.

On January 28, authorities demolished a 4-shop commercial complex owned by former lawmaker Ghulam Hassan Khan in Shopian. A day later, Kashmir economist and last finance minister, Dr Haseeb Drabu’s 15-kanal patch of land was retrieved. “How is it possible? I don’t know of any land in Shopian. There is something amiss. I don’t have any land — orchard or no orchard — in Shopian,” Drabu said. “If there was any land registered in my name, the government had to first send me an eviction notice. We would have checked the revenue records. I would have responded to their notice.” He called the officials who admitted there was no land in his name. They promised to make corrections but did not do anything.

On the same day, 3.14 kanal was retrieved from former lawmaker Prem Sagar Aziz in Plahi (Kathua), 9.15 kanals in Plakh from District Development Council Chairman, Kathua Col (retd) Mahan Singh, 6.8 kanals in Pretha from the son of a retired government servant. In Shopian 40 shops were sealed.

On January 30, the district administration in Anantnag took over an illegal commercial structure that NC lawmaker, Majid Larmi, had constructed over Shamilat land on the national highway. Part of the complex having 60 shops was demolished and the rest was taken over by the authorities.

Newspapers were told that another NC lawmaker, Altaf Kaloo (Pahalgam) had managed to temper with land revenue records for taking over more than 100 kanals of Shamilat land and rented it to the army for a garrison at Ashmuqam. He has been taking rent from the armed forces and now investigations are underway. The garrison spread over 458 kanals has only 51 kanals as the proprietary land and the rest is shamilat and Kaloo clan is taking the rent for more than 150 kanals.

On January 31, Baqar Hussain Samoon, an SSP rank officer, living in Humhama watched the bulldozer retrieving 1.18 kanals of Kahcharie from his possession.

On February 1, one kanals of land was retrieved from Congressman Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed at Arad Khoshipora after demolishing the boundary wall. In Dooru, 2.7 kanals of Shamilat land were retrieved from the possession of PDP leader Syed Farooq Andrabi at Shistergam. Around 15 kanals of Shamilat land was retrieved from the heirs of pre-1975 Chief Minister, Syed Mir Qasim.

In Pahalgam, authorities took over Green Acker, a guest house at Laripora that Bashir Ahmad Dar, Ex-EO MC Pahalgam and Manzoor Ahmad, ex-Secretary MC Pahalgam had constructed.

The same day, authorities moved bulldozers to the vast Nedoo’s Hotel premises and claimed retrieval of 40 kanals of land that had been encroached upon by the family of Micheal Adam Nedou, who introduced the first hotel in Srinagar in Gulmarg in 1900 after having one in Lahore. It proved to be a visual story as the family resisted with documents. Of the hotel’s 153 kanals of land, officials said 40 kanals were illegally occupied state land and the rest was leased land. They demolished a shed and the boundary wall.

State Land Encroachment Kahcharaie Encroachmnet
District Kanal Marla Kanal Marla
Rajouri 392247 3495 13
Ramban 109629 15 514 10
Reasi 71201 8 2730 1
Kishtwar 62327 13 2648 5
Samba 25015 10 853 8
Udhampur 90089 5 9131 5
Doda 116174 362
Poonch 64552 2 4122 1
Jammu 32995 6 6609 18
Kathua 57215 17 3553 7
Total Jammu 1021444 34017
Anantnag 33710 13 25189 17
Srinagar 36394 16 23640 8
Budgam 27947 39534
Ganderbal 24533 16473
Pulwama 41011 12 33233 5
Baramulla 93426 5 40396 15
Kulgam 29114 23940
Shopian 34752 39136
Bandipore 47763 4 15647 13
Kupwara 55721 53743 16
Total Kashmir 424371 310931
Jammu Kashmir 1445815 344948
Source: Response of revenue ministry to assembly on March 6, 2012

In Karan Nagar, 12 kanals were retrieved from ML Dhar.

On February 2, Qazi Yasir’s double-storey complex was hit by a bulldozer. While the shop line was taken over by the municipality, the second storey was destroyed. Yasir is the son of Qazi Nisar and was dubbed a separatist leader.

In Qazigund, officials said they retrieved 1.18 kanal of land from the kin of NC leader, Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad Shah in Kurigam. From Mahataba, the widow of HD Dewegowda’s junior home minister Maqbool Dar, two kanals of land were retrieved from Nowgam (Shangus).

In Shopian, officials were sent in a snow-bound Sedow belt to retrieve 13.16 kanals of forest land grabbed by erstwhile lawmaker Taj Mohiuddin.

Earlier, the government said it retrieved 23.9 kanals from BJP’s former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta in Ghaink village. Authorities have issued notice to BJP’s Abdul Ghani Kohli Apni Party’s Zulfikar Chowdhary, both former lawmakers. Chowdhary claimed he had purchased nearly 12 kanals in 2006, and that the three kanals of it now claimed to be state land in Chowdi had exchanged hands 14 times earlier. It has been retrieved.

In Handwara’s Kachiwara on February 6, almost five kanals of land were retrieved from Zahoor Ahmad Watali, a top businessman who was earlier arrested by a federal investigator, NIA in a terror funding case.

Authorities did not use bulldozers everywhere. In most cases, the built-up properties were sealed and in certain cases, the constructions were taken over. In one district, a senior officer distributed the retrieved land among various departments for building their own infrastructure. A district retrieved a vast patch of land and gave it to horticulture for conversion into an orchard.

Mighty, Influential

Responding to the mass fear, the administration at different levels asserted that the move is aimed at the influential and the powerful who abused their authority to grab land.

“I want to assure the people that the administration will safeguard the habitations and livelihoods of the common man. Only influential and powerful people who misused their position and violated the law to encroach upon the state land would face the law of the land,” LG Manoj Sinha said after inaugurating Civil Services Officers Institute (CSOI) in Jammu. CSOIs are a sort of club for which the former MA Road residence of the erstwhile Chief Minister has been set aside in Srinagar. “Only those people who have grabbed land illegally are facing eviction. I have personally directed the deputy commissioners and senior superintendents of police to closely monitor (the drive) and ensure no innocent person is affected in any manner,” Sinha added.

Jammu Administration bulldozer at work on February 2, 2023. Pic DIPR

On February 3, Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta directed the Deputy Commissioners to safeguard the habitations and livelihoods of the poor and downtrodden.

Kumar’s insistence came a day after Ghulam Nabi Azad met Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi in which he was assured that small landholders will not be harassed. The campaign, he said in a statement, has the potential of triggering “serious unrest and uncertainty”. His immediate concern was the mounting tensions in areas of Jammu. He said the successive governments have provided road connectivity, supply of water and electricity, schools, Anganwadi centres and other welfare schemes including health-related facilities to these houses which implicitly indicate these habitations to be “recognized constructions.”

Assurances apart, the law and the constitution, as Omar Abdullah pointed out later, do not make a distinction between influential and non-influential. This was visible on the ground as well. Put together, all the lands retrieved from the influential and the powerful do not make even 2000 kanals. So who had occupied more than half a million kanals of land that the administration claims it has retrieved?

Aftaab Market Case

In Srinagar, February 3, was interesting as the authorities sealed the Aftaab market comprising a score-odd 20 shops, mostly dealing with white goods, in Lal Chowk. The closure came amid reports that the property was snatched away from a rightful owner illegally.

Srinagar was shocked as the city’s up-markets including Lal Chowk operate from leased lands. There were symbolic protests and emotional scenes dominating social media. A day later, the shop owners visited the officials and proved conclusively that they have been legal tenants of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) for decades. Convinced officials broke the seals and the market burst back to life.

Had the officials met the shop owners before implementing a decision, the question of sealing might have never arisen. Did they? If not, why not? This explains how officials operate in a war-like environment permitting a “misunderstanding” to pave way for sealing a market!

Sunjwan Bathindi Case

Post 1990, Jammu expanded in length and breadth as it witnessed huge immigration from Kashmir. Apart from Kashmiri Pandits who migrated en masse, there were Muslims, Sikhs, a section of employees, traders and a section of people who wanted to raise their families away from a seriously disturbed home. Similar migrants took place from Chenab and Pir Panchal regions. These migrants invested their savings to make Jammu their second home. This led to the creation of various satellite habitations – Sunjwan and Bathindi after Sidhra, which are mostly Muslim localities.

“Notices were issued to a few houses asking them to vacate as their constructions are on state land,” a Jammu reporter privy to the developments, said. “All these families have some connection with politics.”

PDP actoivists protest against demolition drive in Srinagar in February 2023. KL Image Bilal Bahadur

As the news spread, the localities decided to support the families and went into a mass protest. “They believe that if the government somehow destroys the particular constructions, this will push the bulldozers in,” the scribe said, insisting that there is a firm belief among residents that these housing settlements are disliked by a section of the population.

Interestingly, the housing settlements of Bathindi, Sunjwan, Chanta, Ragura, Sidhra with almost half a million population were excluded when almost a score odd similar colonies were regularised by the government. Residents allege these localities are being singled out simply because a particular community lives there.

The tons of rubble and debris at the spot where MG Hector showroom exists in Malik market Jammu. After initial resistance, authorities made arrests and later sealed the area and undone the encroachment on state land in February 2023. KL Image: Special Arrangement

The Malik Market

 On February 4, a number of bulldozers reached Jammu’s Malik Market and started demolishing a multi-storey showroom MG Hector. Hundreds of people watched the demolition and after some time it led to a serious law and order situation in which some cops survived injured. Cops fired tear smoke shells to stop stone pelting that had led officials to leave the bulldozers and flee to safety.

The showroom belongs to a Kashmir resident Sajad Ahmad Baig, whose family started a business in Jammu in 1990. He admits that part of his construction is on state land and he is willing to give propriety land in exchange.

The incident dominated social media and led the police to act. A case was registered and eight people including the showroom owner were arrested and many more are being questioned. However, it has halted the rolling bulldozers for the time being. Authorities in Jammu had to make extra efforts to ensure the tensions do not escalate.

“During the ongoing anti-encroachment drive, no landless person, family and small commercial units shall be targeted,” Jammu Divisional Commissioner Ramesh Kumar was quoted as saying. “But big encroachers will not be spared. People are requested to cooperate.” DC Jammu, Avny Lavasa added: “I want to clarify that the government has no intention to disturb the houses and small commercial properties of poor people on which their livelihood is dependent.”

Poor and Landless

Every time officials respond to the ongoing campaign, the poor population is a mandatory reference. How many people in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir are poor?

The 2011 census suggests that 3064 families comprising 19047 people had no house. This means around 0.32 per cent of the population in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are houseless. Anybody lacking a house is automatically landless.

Jammu and Kashmir’s below-the-poverty-line (BPL) population has always been in dispute for one or the other reason. It was 10.35 per cent in 2017-18 – almost half of the national average. Now in 2020-21, it is 12.58 per cent.

Even the people owning lands exhibit an interesting trend that makes Jammu and Kashmir distinct in the entire subcontinent. In 2015-16, there were 1416509 land holdings registered with the government. Of them, 905792 (63.95 per cent) land holdings comprised an area of less than 10 kanals of land. The survey suggests that in Kashmir, these marginal holdings form 72.90 per cent of all holdings. If seen across Jammu and Kashmir, more than 64 per cent of the small holdings are in Kashmir. Interestingly, in Jammu alone, 1176 people have land possession exceeding the limits set by the erstwhile Agrarian Reforms Act.

The survey found 281095 land holdings (19.8 per cent) having 10 to 20 kanals; 159988 (11.29 per cent) had up to 40 kanals; 43698 (3.08 per cent) had somewhere between 40 to 60 kanls; 14404 (1.02 per cent) holdings comprised between 60 to 80 kanals; 5579 (0.39 per cent) were up to 100 kanals; 4424 (0.31 per cent) holdings fall in 100-150 kanal category; 995 (0.07 per cent) holdings had 200 kanals; 426 (0.03 per cent) were up to 20 hectors and only 108 (0.01 per cent) had more than 400 kanals of land.

Efforts to get the landless population data in Jammu and Kashmir failed. “If you have a very small homeless population among natives, it means some of them may be having land but might be lacking resources to construct a home,” one officer, who knows Jammu and Kashmir’s numerical sphere for a long time, said. “Still, I will try to locate if the number was ever generated.”

Encroachments: A Reality

This, however, does not mean that there have not been encroachments upon state land. Reasons apart, encroachments on state land, kahcharie and nazool land has been a perpetual feature almost everywhere. At least one government had to get bulldozers out to reclaim the main roads in Srinagar.

Data available with Kashmir Life suggest that almost 2107230 kanals of land were in unauthorised occupation of people in 2014. Earlier on March 6, 2012, the government informed the Jammu and Kashmir assembly that 1790763 kanals of land stands encroached upon across the state of which 1055461 kanals (59 per cent) stands in Jammu and 735302 kanals in Kashmir. While Jammu has more stand land in possession of unauthorised people, in Kashmir, it was the case in kahcharie. By 2014, when the same detail was tabled in the house, the land under occupation had gone up despite the counter-encroachment campaigns by successive governments.

On the same day, the government said 23002 people were in illegal possession of 9469.49 hectares land in 16 forest divisions of Jammu as 15408 individuals held 3890.6 hectares illegally in Kashmir. This meant 13360.1 hectares of forest land were occupied by 38410 individuals.

In March 2013, the government revealed that a total of 25948 kanals of land belonging to the Evacuees’ Property stands encroached upon. It included 8065 kanals of EP land in Kashmir and 12444 in Jammu.

Kahcharie in the twin cities of Srinagar and Jammu is called Nazool land and it is 25948 kanals of high-value commercial land. Jammu has 18049 kanals of Nazool land. Of Srinagar’s 7899 kanal, the BSF has already been given 5548.15 kanals at Pantha Chowk. Of the balance land, 1089 kanals are residential (189 kanals unauthorised); 1041 kanals are commercial (250 kanals unauthorised) and 220 kanals are with institutions mostly legal occupations.

Besides, there are a lot of wastelands that fall under diverse names in revenue records – Banjri QAdeem, Bajr-e-Jadeed, Gair Mumkin Khud, Zeri Saya, Bhedzar, Safedzar, Tootzar, Kaap, Ghairmumkin Khul. There are more than two million kanals across Jammu and Kashmir – 1084096 in Kashmir and 1151546 kanals in Jammu’s 10 districts. Only in a few cases has part of this land been used for any developmental activity but this is key to certain vital distinctions in horticulture production across the erstwhile state.

Roshni Racket

Part of these occupations was fresh and partly for 50 to 100 years. It was against this backdrop that the Jammu and Kashmir government in 2000 decided to regularise the occupation on a market rate basis and create a corpus of funds that will help JK Power Development Corporation (JKSPDC) to take up major power projects. The government expected no less than one lakh from every single kanal of land in unauthorised possession – a sum of Rs 20,000 crore.

Less than five years later – when a complete system was in place for raising these funds, the then Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad was advised by a group of officials, who were part of his kitchen cabinet, to bestow the ownership of these lands on people free of cost. The idea was to make him emerge as towering over Kashmir’s land-to-tiller initiator,  Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. It reduced a scheme into a racket that is now detailed by CAG and various court orders.

Informing the assembly about the follow-up of the messed up scheme in March 2018, the government said that 253784 people had applied for regularisation of the encroachments they had made over 1790105 kanals – 313121 kanals in Kashmir (17.49 per cent) and 1476984 kanals (82.50 per cent) in Jammu’s 10 districts.

Eventually, the government approved the regularisation of only 172244 kanals – 13732 kanals (7.97 per cent) in Kashmir and 158512 kanals (92.02 per cent) in Jammu. The Jammu and Kashmir government raised Rs 76.91 crore from these regularisations.

Kashmir paid Rs 54.27 crore at an average of Rs 39522 per kanal. In Srinagar, it cost Rs 1391256 per kanal.

In Jammu, Rs 22.63 crore were raised by the sale. By an average, it cost Rs 1428 per kanal. In case of Jammu city where 44912 kanals – three times more than Kashmir’s 10 districts – was regularised, the average returns per kanal was Rs 3555.

With the entire Roshni scheme shelved and declared illegal by the administration and the court of law, it remains to be seen how will the government manage to compensate the people who availed a legal process to acquire property, invested in that and added to the State Domestic Gross Product (SDGP). The scheme was implemented in 2001 and discarded on October 9, 2020.

Motive and Method

After changing land laws, identifying issues with the land leases of recent years and opening the land resource for development and inviting investors, the Jammu and Kashmir administration finally announced that it will retrieve every inch of the land under unauthorised occupation. On expected lines, there was a fierce reaction.

Apart from protests that have been there in Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi, the political class has been talking tough. Civil liberty watchdogs also jumped in. While Amnesty International India called for an immediate halt in the demolitions, its UK Chapter even called the bulldozer maker company, JCB to invoke its rights and prevent abuse of the machine in Kashmir.

“Jammu and Kashmir was the only state or union territory where people did not sleep on the road, where people did not stand in line for free rations. Ever since the BJP came, the people living above the poverty line have also come below it. They want to make Jammu and Kashmir like Palestine and Afghanistan,” Mehbooba Mufti said. “Palestine is still better. At least people talk. Kashmir is becoming worse than Afghanistan the way bulldozers are being used to demolish homes of people.” She took the protests to Delhi where she was arrested.

Ms Mufti said the administration is hoodwinking the public. “They say that they are only targeting the rich and not touching the poor. But on the ground, even houses on three-marla land and under tin sheds are being demolished. Even people who have papers from Maharaja’s time are not being considered.”

Upholding the administration’s right to reclaim its assets, Omar Abdullah pointed out that due process is not being followed and bulldozer has become the first response to evict people from the lands they have been occupying.

“Due process has to be followed. Without issuing a single notice, they are directly sending bulldozers. If someone has occupied any property, issue them a notice, give them time to respond and then take action,” Omar said. “Bulldozers should be a measure of a last resort, not the first option.”

Comrade MY Tarigami said sees the anti-encroachment drive as a “war” against the people. “The ongoing so-called anti-land encroachment drive and eviction have generated fear psychosis among the common masses at the ground level in Jammu and Kashmir,” Tarigami said. “The selection of areas and individuals for bulldozing creates doubts regarding the real intentions of the administration. The eviction campaign seems selective and discriminatory.”

Terming the drive as “drama” of the Jammu and Kashmir administration, Apni Party leader, Altaf Bukhari said his party is aware of the intentions and motives. “There are no land sharks in Jammu and Kashmir,” Bukhari said. “Everyone who is behind the demolitions will be made accountable one day.”

Sajad Lone said he has no idea why the bulldozers are rolling. “Do they want to retrieve land or humiliate people? I think humiliation is more important to them,” Lone said. “I appeal to my Prime Minister. I had a misconception that you are everybody’s Prime Minister. Please tell me who my Prime Minister is. Who is the Prime Minister of the poor people you are bulldozing.”

Post Script

Authorities finally erased the Jammu showroom amid impressive security arrangements. In Srinagar and Jammu, authoroties issued notces to many localities asking them to vacate from the lands they have illgally occupied. In peripery of Kashmir, there are instances in which people have been asked to clear the lands from poplar, willow plantatons. There are instances in which people are volunatrily vacating from ceratin patches of land.

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