Heartburn In Jammu

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Anti-Encroachment Drive In Jammu Decried For Being Discriminatory Against A Particular Community.

Sheikh Sameer

A massive “anti-encroachment drive” has been initiated by the Revenue Department in Jammu city this year. The drive has come under sharp criticism from the aggrieved persons. They allege that the administration is selectively targeting a particular community, and that the drive has been initiated to harass the community.

It is undeniable that Jammu has emerged as a cosmopolitan city over the last few decades. It has accommodated people of all faiths, irrespective of faith and cultures. Jammu city has genuinely erased the blot of the horrific bloodshed of 1947, and has come a long way.

A big part of the greater Jammu region comprises hilly areas. People from the hills, irrespective of their religious belief, have migrated to Jammu for better facilities. A large number of people from Rajouri and Poonch districts on one side, and Ramban, Doda, Baderwah and Kishtwar on the other side have settled in the outskirts of Jammu to avail better opportunities for their children.

Jammu has a natural advantage geographically. It is the gateway to the Himalayan regions of Kashmir and Ladakh. Because of its excellent air, road and railway connectivity with the rest of the country, Jammu serves as a convenient transit camp for the people visiting Kashmir and Ladakh.

Yet another advantage for Jammu is that every year, it hosts thousands of students from Ladakh. The two major communities of Ladakh – Muslims and Buddhists – prefer Jammu as a safe educational and economic destination over Kashmir. The valley has been under the grip of terrorism, extremism and exclusivism. Someone has well captured the reality. “Mahatma Gandhi no more sees the ray of light in Kashmir, as he has seen complete sunshine in Jammu.”

Jammu has emerged as a vibrant mix of all cultures, and a major economic hub in north India. Three major reasons for this phenomenon are a) The migration of people from the hills; b) The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir and c) The seasonal migration of Kashmiris to Jammu during winter.

Jammu has inculcated a spirit of positive and healthy competition, with students from the city, Kashmir and Ladakh mixing here. Jammu presents a true picture of a progressive, aspirational and tolerant society.

The emerging political polarization is a cause of worry. It is impacting and polluting the minds in Jammu, though slowly.

 

Polarization Over Anti-Encroachment Drive 

It is because of this polarization that the people of a particular community who have migrated from the hills of the region have criticized the “anti-encroachment drive” which has been going on in Jammu since March this year. These charges are being leveled by dozens of aggrieved persons. They allege that the J&K Administration is selectively dispossessing the people of one particular community of their legal and legitimate possessions.

Questions are being raised as to why the administration, under the garb of removing encroachments on state land, is indiscriminately and forcibly evacuating people. This is being done even though the land is registered in the name of these people, and they have legitimate revenue mutations in their favor.

Another important question which is being raised is that for decades, the administration allowed the real estate brokers to sell state and community land to the beneficiaries. It allowed these colonizers to develop residential colonies. As part of the advancing colonization, all amenities including road, electricity and water supply were provided to these colonies.

Now, the people are genuinely asking that action should be taken against the land mafia that colonized these areas and sold plots. This has not been done. Instead, people who have put their life investment in building houses here are being dispossessed. Dozens of structures including buildings and shops have been demolished partially or completely near Bhatindi crossing on the Narwal- Kunjwani bypass, Sidhra, Belicharana, Nikki Tawi and Sunjwan.

 

Charges that Selective Families Being Targeted

On May 12, the Revenue officials accompanied by a heavy contingent of police and equipped with JCBs and demolition squads demolished structures on proprietary land belonging to a family that migrated from the Bedarwah district and settled in Jammu about 50 years ago. The property was purchased by the family from locals, and they have legal and valid revenue documents.

According to the family, about eight or nine years ago there was a complaint that the land under the particular Survey Number registered in their name was situated at a distance from the land they were occupying. The matter was investigated by the revenue officials. The officials submitted the report that the land occupied by the family was the same as indicated in the survey numbers.

In March, the revenue officials demolished the housing unit and shed constructed over the land, and uprooted a number of huge mango trees. The aggrieved family went to the court with the revenue records. The court stayed the demolition drive till the next hearing on March 21. On the given date, the court again issued the order of maintaining status quo till May 22. The family stated that on May 12, the revenue officials – in violation of court order – demarcated the land and raised a sign board of “Jammu Smart City” there.

Similar “dispossession” drives was reported from other parts in Jammu outskirts. This correspondent made several attempts to reach out to the revenue authorities for their comments on this controversial issue. Deputy Commissioner Jammu Avny Lavasa and Financial Commissioner Revenue Shaleen Kabra did not respond to calls or WhatsApp messages.

Initially, the aggrieved persons initially resisted the demolition in March, forcing the authorities to suspend the drive. The administration assured the people that their grievances would be looked into sympathetically.

 

Land Grab Happened In Connivance With Officers

It cannot be denied that vast acres of state and forest land have been encroached upon in Jammu outskirts. But who is to be blamed for the encroachment? How is it possible without the support of revenue and forest authorities? Hundreds of acres of state and forest land was occupied by the land mafia, who sold it to the people at exorbitant prices.

It is known that the revenue and forest officials were hand in glove with the land mafia. Now, people who invested their life earnings in constructing these houses are being made to run from pillar to post. They are being questioned by the same revenue officers who made false entries in the records in the favour of the land mafia for monetary and other benefits.

The administration is within its rights to retrieve encroached land. But this must be done in an impartial manner and in a way to spread harmony, not spread haterd. These are legitimate questions which the Revenue and Police Departments need to answer.

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