Land Mafia Evokes ‘Save Saffron’ Slogan to Spoil Kashmir’s AIIMS Plan

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While Jammu is lobbying for AIIMS, land mafia in Kashmir is using saffron sentiment to press government to shift the proposed site, reports Bilal Handoo

Half a mile away from proposed AIIMS site, Land Mafia excavating Saffron soil in this file pic.

Half a mile away from proposed AIIMS site, Land Mafia excavating Saffron soil in this file pic.

The proposed site for All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Kashmir stretched over nearly 500 Kanals of land is fast becoming a strife spot.

Many disgruntling voices are opposing the move saying: “It’s a Saffron land and must not be brought under construction.”

But Civil Society Pampora is turning down the dissent, stating: “Those who are opposing the move are hand in glove with land mafia.”

The opposition, they say, has been mooted to safeguard the booty – “that land mafia get from the state land”.

A row of sorts broke out in Saffron town with this announcement: “Central government would set up branches of AIIMS in five states, including Jammu and Kashmir.”

The announcement was made by union finance minister Arun Jaitely while presenting the Budget.

AIIMS hospital — one of the India’s premier research and referral hospitals catering thousands of patients across India — is currently only established in New Delhi.

It was February 28, 2015, when AIIMS was given to Kashmir—then under Governor’s rule. With Mufti Muhammad Sayeed yet to begin his second stint as J-K chief minister, the move was readily read an incentive to validate the “unholy alliance”.

Omar Abdullah was quick to respond when he took to his social handle to tweet this: “Bricks & mortar don’t make AIIMS & IIMs. In fact quite the opposite, they dilute the brand equity of the original institution.”

AIIMS

A few days later, it almost became certain that it is Pampore in Pulwama district that had ended up grabbing the ‘coveted’ project.

The step spread some smiles around Saffron town, but the euphoria fizzled out once the dissent rose.

The proposed site is located at Letribal area of Pampore. Locals say the land has been exploited by land mafia for soil excavation for over years now.

“Ever since the announcement,” says Shabir Bhat, a local in Pampore, “the land mafia is finding themselves in a tight spot as they wouldn’t be able to have their booty any longer.”

Apart from Bhat, many voices identifying themselves with Pampore Coordination Committee say the dissent is just a “sign of desperation” from certain “shady sections”.

“One shouldn’t take this resistance spearheaded by land mafia seriously,” says Abdul Hameed, a member of Pampore Coordination Committee. “They (Land mafia) want to deprive Pampore from this super speciality hospital, close to National Highway, 15km from Airport and just 1km from railway.”

Notably the proposed site was supposed to house Spice Park before MLA Pampore Zahoor Mir decided to setup the park 6km away in his native village.

Up in arms against the proposed move, the dissenters say they won’t allow devouring the surviving Saffron stretch.

“Already Pampore has lost much of its Saffron land to construction,” says Khaliq Ahmad, introducing himself as Saffron farmer, and one of the dissenters. “We won’t allow this land meeting the same fate. We will protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, if pushed to extremes.”

One of the arguments given by the dissenters is that upper soil layer of the proposed land must not be tempered as it bosoms Saffron flower.

“But this argument is totally flawed,” says Irtif Shah, who favours AIIMS, “in fact, the top layer was sliced out by land grabbers itself.”

Since many years now, Shah continues, “these people have been excavating mud for commercial purpose. Now when their booty seems over, they, in desperation, have raised on the occasion to resist the move.”

There are currently a number of houses constructed on the site and adjacent to it.

“These houses were constructed by people who came from as far as Kupwara,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a local social activist. “They bought this state land on peanuts from land mafia. Now, they fear that once govt will start marking state land, their shady deal will be exposed. Thus, they are creating this notion that saffron is under threat.”

Interestingly, over the year the stretch near Letribal was plundered by land mafia for extraction of soil which was supplied to Highway and Railway projects.

In nearby Chandhara village, hundreds of kanals of precious saffron land forming famous Karewas, was bulldozed and razed to ground for commercial gains by land mafia.

Site where prized mammoth fossil was discovered in 2001.

Site where prized mammoth fossil was discovered in 2001.

Notably, Letribal is the same place where valley’s top geologist Prof GM Bhat along with his team unearthed the prized mammoth fossil in 2001.

Prof Bhat had proposed construction of a museum and preservation of that site. But as Kashmir Life visited the area recently, there is no sign of any such preservation; rather a small bedding manufacturing unit is constructed on the spot.

“That time too the same land mafia evoked save saffron emotional slogans to continue the plunder of this historically important site,” says Mushtaq.

“The entire area is now full of buildings constructed illegally on the river bank.”

As ‘Save Saffron’ slogan is snowballing into crisis of sorts in Saffron town, many say AIIMS must stay in Pampore town to end land mafia’s long reign of terror!

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