Encroachers against the bulldozer at Bhatindi, J&K

(Representative photo)

The bulldozer policy was first initiated in UP under the orders of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The bulldozer has reached J&K also. Earlier the pulling down of unauthorized buildings would be done but in very rare cases. Why did the bulldozing become so rampant in UP and how did the government implement the new policy are interesting questions. It takes time, labour and money to raise a structure be it a home or a commercial complex. I think even those who order the dismantling of a building or a residential house feel bad about it. But as we usually say the law takes its course.

The main reason why the government undertakes this drastic decision is because of encroachment or illegal occupation of the land on which a building has been constructed.

The other day, we saw the pulling down of buildings in the Bhatindi area of Jammu. Bhatindi lies in the peripheries of Jammu. A vast stretch of land covering hundreds of kanals was handled by the Gujjars and Bakarwals for a long time. Perhaps they paid a small tax for grazing the cattle and they would make temporary tents to live in. During the summers, they would migrate to cooler mountain heights either in Jammu or in the Kashmir region. This practice continued for so many decades.

The Gujjars became virtual owners of these state lands but without any official order or notification. During the time of Mehbooba Mufti as the chief minister, an order was issued to the administrative departments and the police establishment that the Gujjars will not be evicted from their possession of these lands. The government did not specify in that order the status of the Gujjars who looked after these lands.

De facto the Gujjars thought that they were now the owners of the land and the government had issued clear order of their non-eviction. But the Gujjars thought they were the real and legal occupants of these lands and had a right to its sale-purchase system.

It is said that during the days when Farooq Abdullah was the chief minister, the revenue department of Jammu & Kashmir had made a move to evict the Gujjars from these lands which were owned by the government as per the revenue records. Apprehending that the government would sooner or later confiscate the land, the Gujjars sold some land to very influential political and administrative personalities. It is said that gifted pieces of land measuring from 1 kanal to 25 kanals were sold to the VIPs and other highly influential personalities in the J&K politics and administration. But the understanding was that the lands should be sold only to the Muslims and not Hindus or Sikhs.

In this way, Bhatindi became a fast growing Muslim locality because those who had purchased these lands for peanuts were influential persons in the political or ruling segment of Kashmir Muslim society. Farooq Abdullah is reported to have grabbed about 20-25 kanals of land on which he has built a palatial building.

Scores of Kashmir-based Muslim political activists and bureaucrats down to lower rungs managed to grab land and built houses. In a short time, a huge Muslim township came up. Since among the occupants of land and bungalows in Bhatindi were influential Muslims in the services or politics, it was very easy for them to divert maximum funds from the urban development department and the Jammu Municipality department towards the development of infrastructure at Bhatindi locality. Thus, the roads, drains, water supply, electricity and other community facilities were provided in a very short time. When denizens in the old city and its peripheries yearned for a drop of water, the blue-eyed people of Bhatindi had plenty of water supply to water their lawns and flower beds. When denizens in the old city spent nights without electricity, the blue-eyed residents of Bhatindi enjoyed the electricity supply without a minute’s break. This was all because the entire Muslim bureaucracy was putting up in Bhatindi and the curious thing is that not a single non-Muslim was allowed to purchase land and raise a house.

Somehow the settlers in Bhatindi came to know that a day might come when the government would make enquiries into the illegal possession of the state land by these people. When the rumours spread because some disgruntled elements had tried to approach the court and challenge the clandestine occupation of the government land, the political leadership was alerted. They tried to find a way out so that the land was turned into a legal occupation.

Thus was born the Roshni Act. The legislators were quick to pass the bill because they had also their pound of flesh. The Roshni Act stipulated that the lands belonging to the government in Jammu would be sold to the bidders and those who had already grabbed the patches and raised houses were also eligible for bidding. By a clandestine arrangement in which the government was a partner, the bids never crossed a specific low level. In other words, a kanal of land that would normally cost ten thousand rupees was sold through a bid to the successful bidder for ten rupees. And only Muslims were accepted as bidders. In this way, a general loot of the government land and property was distributed as munificence among the top political leaders, bureaucrats, influential personalities and even cronies who could have created a fuss. Thousands of kanals of land was thus clandestinely passed on to the land grabbers against paltry cost.

The government claimed that through the Roshni Act crores of rupees would come to the state exchequer. This was a ploy to mislead the public and block the path of those who would have raised a voice against this general loot of state property.

Some interested persons approached the court with a case of fraud committed by the government. The Jammu & Kashmir High Court conceded that it was a case of huge fraud and ordered that illegal occupations should be evicted. However, the state administration sat on the files of the order of High Court and did nothing. People thought, and rightly so, that there was a nexus between the land grabbers and the government. That was the reason why until this day the government did not act on the orders of the High Court.

But now, after fully asserting through re-examination of revenue records that it was the government land and not anybody’s property which the land grabbers had occupied illegally. Therefore, to implement the court order, the government deputed the bulldozer party with adequate police force to start the pulling down of the house illegally occupied by land grabbers.

We saw in the television how the land grabbers were confronting the authorities and trying to assert their claim that they are the real owners of the land. One land grabber was heard saying that his family has been living there for the last 130 years and how can the government evict him. There are reports coming in abundance and hundreds of people who had built their small huts of course by encroaching upon the land were opposing the bulldozing of the houses.

This is the sordid story of the communal and illegal policy of the government making discrimination between the influential and non-influential citizens. The general public should ask Farooq Abdullah and his Bhatindi associates why they indulged in a huge scam of land grabbing which brings huge benefits to the land grabbers while the poor and deprived people have been left to fend for themselves.

The government should institute a commission of inquiry into the scam, catch hold of the miscreants and deal with them according to the law of the land.

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