Taj’s Disputed Lands

After bulldozing a house penal to probe his alleged encroachment of forest land in Shopian, Taj Mohiuddin issued ‘verdicts’ in his favour on behalf of a host of institutions. But the clinching evidences surfaced past week suggested that the issue might require a larger investigation, reports R S Gull.

His latest was on human rights day. Taking to a Delhi based TV channel, PHE Minister Taj Mohiuddin stated that he had written to Tehsildar Shopian seeking demarcation of the land under his “illegal” occupation. Tehsildar obliged and the reports, according to Taj, suggested that of the 31 kanals and 18 marlas under his occupation, one kanal was his ownership, 18 kanals and 2 marlas are propriety land and the remaining are khalisa sarkar. There are 17 pine trees on the labs but he asserted it was not forest land.

“I have already sought constitution of a joint team of officers,” the minister accused of a series of land grabs, said. “It must have a conservator and deputy commissioner.” This is perhaps the first case in which an accuser is publicly suggesting what should be done. And eventually that is happening. The biggest ever initiative to probe the allegations against him was a house penal that chairman legislative council constituted. The minister termed it a misuse of constitutional position by a fellow congressman and Chairman. The committee disintegrated in such a fashion that it created precedence, a historic first. Prior to that he managed silencing another fellow Congressman Abdul Gani Vakil against whom the state made a criminal complaint and appointed a special prosecutor to pursue the case. Vakil had levelled serious allegations of corruption against him.

Past week, however, was not very supportive. Three institutions, for and on behalf of which, apparently inadvertently, he had personally announced a certificate of innocence, have stated otherwise. The first was the State Accountability Commission. It issued a show cause notice to the minister seeking his personal appearance to explain as to why contempt proceedings cannot be initiated against him. The notice was in response to his statement that SAC had absolved him in the land grab case. After his innocence was publicized, the SAC dusted records pertaining to all communications in September 2005 in Jammu as well as in Kashmir and it proved there was no letter to the government indicating the Commission found no charge against Taj. The Commission is in the process of framing a robkar against Taj for contempt of the Commission. The case is listed for December 17 and the minister has to appear personally.

Taj has stated repeatedly that Forest Minister Main Altaf has spoken in the assembly indicating that there is no case against him for grabbing the forest land. On November 26, he wrote a detailed letter to the forest minister. “I shall be thankful, if you please look into the matter personally and get a joint committee of Revenue/Forest Departments constituted to demarcate the land under reference once again, in order to clinch the issue once for all, so that the records are put straight and un-necessary coverage through print/electronic media, which tends to undermine my image, due to the vilifications campaign launched against me that takes years to built,” Taj wrote in the letter that was circulated to media.

It was this letter that talked about SAC and Vigilance. “The issue under reference stands looked into by the State Accountability Commission in the year September 2005 and probed by Vigilance Organization Kashmir in the year 2011 conveying that there is no Forest land grabbed,” it read. The recent evidence that surfaced almost instantly proves the incorrectness of these statements. An internal communication of the forest ministry explicitly makes it clear that the piece of land actually belongs to the forests. This land, according to the communication is part of around 1349 hectares of forests in the belt which has been in recent years encroached upon by the residents of village who have done away with the earlier demarcations. There are no records available about the belt prior to that of 1995 because an office was destroyed in fire along with the relevant documents.

The occupier has already applied for its mutations in favour under the scandalous Roshni act. When the concerned revenue officials sought details from the forests, it was clearly mentioned that it is forest land because “coniferous green crop exist on the ground.” The encroacher had fenced the area during the peak of turmoil using barbed wire. In June 2011, the fence was replaced by chain-link fencing thus preventing any forest official to enter the area. An effort to demarcate the land in 2011 failed as the staff was shifted out midway, the communication reveals. The communication also informs that the revenue officials created confusion in the field forest staff by asserting that the disputed land was state land.

The same communication offers details of various communications between police, the state vigilance organization and the revenue officials in the district that terms the status of the land as “illegally occupied” and “forest land”.

The minister has been maintaining that the mere presence of the pines cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that it is a forest. Given the position the encroacher is having in the overall policy making and the governance, the entire case might require a larger investigation.

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