One weapon for all

Umair Haqani

The Jammu and Kashmir government has reportedly decided to impose Public Safety Act against land grabbers, who do not vacate encroached government land. The encroachment of the state land has been a huge problem across all the districts in the state, with many allegations of politician-bureaucrat nexus with the land grabbers. Media has been exposing various land scams across the state especially in Jammu district. A senior minister in the state threatening the use of PSA against land encroachers, highlights the frailty and immaturity of the institutions in Jammu and Kashmir.

The criminal justice system in Jammu and Kashmir, apart from whatever it is on paper, is one of the most primitive, as far as its implementation goes. Well, a law may be only as good, or as bad, as its implementers, taking short cuts to ‘tackle wrongs’ curtails the scope for building just and democratic institutions. Encroaching the state land is a wrong, a crime. Whoever grabs state land commits a crime and the state has many resources, authority, legal and coercive power to get it vacated.

In the first place there is more than one department such as revenue, municipalities, forest department, to guard the state land and if they would do their job adequately, there would not be any encroachments. But as is evident, encroachments do take place across the length and breadth of the state. This shows that people supposedly entrusted with the job are not able to do their job or in many cases, as many reports suggest, connive with the encroachers and help them in committing the wrongs. The minister, who it appears, is also in knowledge of the official, land grabbers nexus warned them against “patronising and officially supporting the land grabbers”.

The state land encroachment is a failure at many levels of the government apart from the rising greed in the society. Though existing laws do provide for safeguarding the state land or getting the encroached land vacated, the government seems to be opting for a short cut by ordering, or at least threatening, to use PSA against land grabbers. The Public Safety Act provides for imprisonment of up to two years as preventive custody, without any trial or charges, except that the police has to tell a deputy commissioner that the person is a threat to public law and order.

The law since its inception has been used against anybody the government wished to incarcerate, which includes political opponents, alleged stone pelters even minors, timber smugglers. Now by bringing land encroachers under the ambit of PSA, the government has demonstrated, again, its lack of will and, probably, inability to strengthen the criminal justice system in the state. The law enforcement agencies have to do their job of collecting evidence and proving the guilt of an accused in the court of law. By arming, the already immensely powerful, law enforcement agencies to simply identify and book a person under PSA leaves little room for justice and makes the system more criminal than just.

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