OCCUPIED LANDS

   

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“They have controlled places including Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg,” said Ansari while initiating a debate.

“Normally when troopers occupy any building or orchard, a large area around the camp also becomes unviable for civilians and it is also deemed as occupied, but not acknowledged in records” said police officer on the condition of anonymity. “The area becomes a buffer or a no mans land and in some cases it is heavily mined.”

Hundreds of square kilometres of land are also occupied by security forces along the 720 km long line of control. This figures nowhere in the official statistics.

A three-tier barbed wire fence snaking along the Line of Control is 500 meters to two kilometres inside Jammu and Kashmir territory. Most of this land has become out of bounds for the villagers. Even if they allow the villagers to tend to their fields outside the fence, the verification and permission process is too cumbersome to be followed each time. There is danger of stepping on landmines as has been the case with many people over the past few years.

“This is unlike the case with international border in other Indian states where a villager can tend to his fields even near the fence which is also nearer to zero line” said a police officer.

If this entire area is also taken into consideration the land area occupied by security forces more than doubles and the ‘occupied region’ becomes even bigger than Hong Kong, Singapore and Bahrain.

What is occupied

Guess a place worth residing and most likely the security agencies would be occupying it in any part of the state. From hospitals to schools and from parks to graveyards everything is under their control.

Ishfaq Pandit has a bitter experience. His father Mohiudin had taken it to himself to liberate his property. “He had told us that even on his death bed he will fight for justice” remembers Ishfaq. True to his words Mohiudin Pandit’s fight continued till he breathed his last on April 17, 2006. His wish was granted as he entered his property only after his demise.

The family had developed a part of their orchard as graveyard, and Mohi-ud-Din had wished to be buried there. “We buried him in the vicinity of his house as he had wished” said Ishfaq. “And now, he, along with the entire graveyard is also under occupation.”

The Pandits have to get the permission from CRPF and then undergo frisking if they wish to offer prayers to the deceased soul. “Even when my father was to be buried at the graveyard we had to get the permission from their Commanding Officer and after insulting searches we were allowed to bury him,” said Ishfaq.

Similar cases are in abundance particularly in the border districts like Poonch, Rajouri, Kupwara and Baramulla. Not to be contend with individual houses or orchards, in some cases the security agencies have occupied entire villages. In December 1990 citing security risks the army told the residents of Bore village in Keran Kupwara to leave. Seventeen families of this village lying near the LOC left after assurances that they will be allowed back soon.

Nineteen years after the eviction, army refuses the people the right to return and the families are scattered all around the Kupwara. Some have even migrated to Pakistan administered Kashmir (PAK) and live as refugees there.

At present the occupied village is heavily mined.

Rent

Most often the security agencies justify their occupation of a property to “national interest” and they say the rent is also paid to the affected lot. In reality the improvement in security situation never compels them to leave and the rent is either too meagre or is absent.

In case of Pandits, the rent was never paid. “We never received a single penny and even for that we have to fight continuously” said Ishfaq, whose main concern has now shifted from vacating the house to getting the rent to meet their daily expenses. “Our file usually moves from police to revenue department and back to police in a cunning cycle, which has been going on for more than a decade” said Ishfaq.

In Srinagar peripheries many land owners of Batwara and Pandrethan are fighting an unending legal battle for past 85 years since their land was forcibly taken by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1924 for creating a military cantonment.

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