Has Kashmir’s multi-billionaire business tycoon Fahad Nazir Zaroo unauthorisedly occupied approximately 674 kanals of forest/state land at Kralsangri in Gagribal forests?
Government officers told KZINE that the land has been illegally occupied by Fahad Zaroo. Some men working at the spot said they work for the Khazir Group of Companies. They said that Fahad Zaroo is the owner of the land. Officials told KZINE that Zaroo has grabbed a huge chunk of forest/ state land with the connivance of some officials in the Forest and Revenue Departments at Kralsangri. The police took cognizance and foiled the attempts of land grab by the hotelier. In this connection, the SHO at Police Station Nishat registered FIR 113 /21 U/s 188, 447 IPC. Preliminary investigations have revealed that Fahad Zaroo attempted to defraud the government of land worth hundreds of crores. According to police sources, Zaroo has claimed ownership of the land by producing bogus documents.
Zaroo is the Managing Director of Khazir Group of Companies. He is Managing Director at Khazir Elegantly Timeless, at Khazir Hospitality Private Limited, Managing Director at Khazir Agro Private Ltd, and Director at Royal Khazir Hotels and Resorts Pvt Ltd. He is also the co-owner of RK Sarovar Portico constructed on the foothills of Shankaracharya hills. Zaroo lives in Muscat, Oman.
Construction At Illegally Occupied Land
Officials who did not want to be identified told KZINE that Zaroo not only grabbed the land illegally but also started construction there. They said that pine trees, walnut trees and deodar trees on this land were chopped down. When Team KZINE visited the spot, they saw stumps of trees that had been cut.
When the news broke out that this priceless government land had been illegally occupied, the chopped trees were transported within no time. Hence evidence in this regard could not be collected. Pine trees come under the category of the royal trees and walnut trees come under the category of specified trees. In accordance with the rules framed by the government, trees in the royal and specified categories cannot be pruned or chopped even when standing on private land. Section 8 of the Public Safety Act authorizes the Deputy Commissioner or the divisional administration to investigate against the forest smugglers.
Forest Department trying to prevaricate
Officers of the J&K Forest Department seem to be in a fix regarding the illegal possession of land in Kralsangri. In conversation with KZINE, the officers tried to shrug off responsibility for the land grab scam by saying that the area doesn’t come under their jurisdiction.
District Forest officer Syed Abid told KZINE said the area where chopping or construction has been carried out is not forest land. “This area is revenue land (Milkiyat land),” he told KZINE. If this is milkiyat land, how has demolition been carried out here? Also, pine trees and walnut trees cannot be cut even on milkiyat land. When questioned about the same, District Forest officer Syed Abid told KZINE, “The Police Department and LCMA (Lake Conservation and Management Authority) can answer this better. Forest land has its own demarcation boards, and the area you are referring to is outside those limits.” When Team KZINE visited the area, officers from the Police Department, the Deputy Commissioner’s Office and the Wildllife Department were present there. The Range Officer of the Forest Department said the total area which has been illegally occupied comprises about 674 kanals of state land, including Section 4 (ghas charay) and Section 5 (shamilat) land. Section 4 (Ghas charay, Kahcharai or grazing land): People can use this land only for grazing purposes but not for construction and agricultural purposes. There is no legal ownership of any individual over this land. Section 5 (Dafa 5 or Shamilat): This is the land adjoining the milkiyat land limiting up to the shadow of the trees. Section 5 land is included in milkiyat land to the point where some trees may be standing.
Construction Happening For Over Two Months
Residents of Kralsangri told KZINE that construction has been going on over this land for the last two months. Residents said it was not possible that the Forest Department did not know about this encroachment and also about the gate barricading entry to this area. The gate is clearly visible from the main road. A government official who did not want to be identified told KZINE that revenue documents from Fahad Zaroo claiming ownership of the land have been taken into possession. The official informed that Zaroo is claiming ownership of 674 kanals of land in Kralsangri. Out of this, 100 kanals is forest land which has been grabbed illegally. The official also said that 574 kanals were given on lease to Zaroo by the government.
The official did not know whether Zaroo has legal documents for the lease, or who gave the land to him on lease.
Eyewash by Lake Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA) to demolished structure
When the construction activity was carried out around the protected forest zone, LCMA demolished just a few iron poles and fencing. It is to be noted that LCMA did not lodge a complaint against Fahad Zaroo or against any unknown offender.
KZINE contacted LCMA Enforcement Officer DySP Abdul Aziz Qadri in this regard. When questioned by KZINE, Qadri said, “I am on medical leave. Please ask some other officer.” This again seemed to be a case of deflection of responsibility. When contacted by KZINE, Enforcement Officer DySP Zahid said, “I shall not be able to answer your queries. The area comes under Qadri Sir. He had sent his team yesterday. Officers of the Police and Forest Department were also there. They raised the objection that some poles and fencing were illegal. So our team demolished them. As of now, we only carried out some demolition. The rest shall be confirmed by the Forest Department and the Revenue Department – whether the land is legally or illegally in someone’s possession.
Why didn’t LCMA register an FIR for the illegal construction and encroachment? DySP Zahid responded that FIR is registered regarding big constructions only. According to DySP Zahid, poles and fencing were demolished over land measuring about two to three kanals. The demolition of the poles and fencing by LCMA establishes that these were unauthorized installations on the land. It is strange that the department has not initiated any official action regarding illegal occupation of prime state land.
A police officer who visited the area said that Zaroo and his team have constructed some huts on the land. LCMA has demolished just one window of one hut. The other structures are standing as they were before.
Workers of Khazir Group Present On The Spot
Fayaz Ahmad, who works with the Khazir Group, was present on the spot when the DC and officials of the Revenue Department, the Forest Department, the Wildlife Department and LCMA visited the area in Kralsangri to check for the violations on the land in their jurisdiction.
Fayaz told KZINE, “They did not find any construction materials or labourers here. The officials told us not to have any wire fencing at the boundary. We only have fruit trees. We don’t have any pine trees here. Hundreds of kanals belong to Fahad Zaroo in different patches.” Fayaz added that the huts constructed here are for tourists, but they are not operational yet. When questioned by KZINE, the security guard manning the area said that no demolition activity was carried out here. “Some wires were removed from here. Those removing the boundary wires said that this is forest land, so it cannot be fenced in any way.”
Fahad Zaroo Has The Blessings of The High And Mighty
This development relates to 2016. Fahad Zaroo was closely connected to then Minister for Tourism Tasaduq Mufti, the brother of the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. According to sources, Zaroo proposed to the government to establish a tourist village in the Kralsangri forests just above the Tulip Garden. Tasaduq Mufti had purchased huge chunks of land at famous tourist destinations like Aru valley in Pahalgam. Sources reveal that Tasaduq agreed to Zaroo’s proposal for a tourist village because of the proximity between them and the common interest. Even after the unceremonious exit of Tasaduq Mufti as Minister of Tourism, Zaroo used all his resources to get the proposal cleared. The proposal later got stuck since it needed clearances from various departments.
UT Govt’s Media Centre at Sarovar Portico
In August 2019, the divisional administration set up a media centre at RK Sarovar Portico in wake of the internet ban following abrogation of Article 370. During this time, Zaroo renewed his efforts to construct tourism huts in the fragile Kralsangri forests.
The then divisional commissioner Kashmir Baseer Khan, Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Shahid Choudhary, Director Information Dr Sehrish Asgar, IG Muneer Khan established the media centre at Sarovar Portico. The Deputy Commissioner also made it the camp office, thereby providing huge benefits to Sarovar Portico. According to sources, Fahad Zaroo secured many contracts in the tourism and tour and travel industry because of his deep connections with these officers. Sources also reveal that the black money running into many crores in the possession of then DC Srinagar Shahid Choudhary was converted into white money through Fahad Zaroo.
The intelligence agencies are investigating the matter. KZINE will reveal the details of this scam in a subsequent edition.
Shahid Choudhary and Baseer Khan did not receive our call despite repeated attempts. They did not respond to our text messages either. The KZINE correspondent asked Dr Sehrish Asgar how much was paid to Sarovar Portico for opening the UT Govt’s Media Centre there, and the process for shortlisting it. Dr Asgar said, “I don’t know anything about it. Please ask someone from the Finance Department.”
When questioned in this regard, Muneer Khan said, “I was Additional DG Law and Security. How would I know? That was not my job. It was shortlisted by the IT department. We had no role to play.”When questioned by Team KZINE that even if he was Additional DG Law and Security, he would have still noticed, because the Internet was snapped across the valley for security reasons, and the service was provided to media only. Muneer Khan replied that the police department had no involvement in this matter.
“Don’t write anything which will hurt my sentiments. Otherwise you know what I will do,” Man at occupied site in Kralsangri told Team KZINE
On November 10, Team KZINE visited the Kralsangri area at about 1 pm where according to government officials, Fahad Zaroo has unauthorisedly occupied state land. We saw two gates constructed on the encroached land. One gate was locked and another gate was open. We went inside and spoke to the security guard and the worker of the Khazir Group present at the spot. After talking to them, we asked them if they can unlock the other gate for us. They refused, saying that they don’t have the keys to the gate. The locked gate leads to the land occupied by Zaroo. Meanwhile, officers of the Police Department, Wildlife Department and Forest Department reached the spot. We tried to talk to the officers of the Forest Department. They seemed to avoid talking to us and also seemed to hide from us.
We spoke to the SHO about the unauthorized occupation of land. He said that we are conducting investigation. We will let you know about the matter after the investigation is over. We asked the police if this is revenue land. I told him that an officer of the Revenue Department had told us that this is revenue land. The police officer said that we are investigating the matter. We asked the police officer if we can go inside. He said to us, “You need not ask for permission. Journalists can go anywhere. Go ahead.” But the officials of the Forest Department seemed to get alerted. They shouted at us, “Don’t go there. Stay near the gate. It is risky inside. There are snakes and wild animals there.”
The workers of the Khazir Group still didn’t open the gate.
We crossed a wire from the side and went inside. We found a shed, some hidden construction material, fresh tracks of vehicles, fencing wire, chopped trees, rice in polythene hanging on a tree and some other material. This provided that activity had been going on here. When we returned, the police and officers of some other departments were still there. The Range Officer of the Forest Department told us that this land measures 674 kanals (mentioned in the report). Five other men were around the group of officers. Two among them seemed to be men of affluence. They stopped and asked us, “Did you find anything?” We told them that trees have been chopped here. One of them asked us, “What kind of trees?” We said walnut trees. “Show us the photographs. We don’t have walnut trees here. Now don’t tell the SHO that you saw walnut trees, otherwise he will believe you,” said one of the men, who looked prosperous. We replied that why will the SHO rely on a journalist to find out what kind of trees have been chopped? He will investigate and find out.
We asked this prosperous man that why was construction material lying here? What was it being used for? The other prosperous man said this material belongs to someone else. Then he said to Team KZINE in a threatening manner, “Don’t write anything which will hurt my sentiments. Otherwise you know what I will do.”