Why Deny the Benefits of Progressive Central Laws in J&K?

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RFCTLARR Act , PoA Act, FRA, RTI Act not implemented in toto 

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat

ONE of the reasons given by the Narendra Modi government for making Article 370 redundant was that the “special status” had deprived the people of Jammu and Kashmir of various rights that the rest of India enjoyed, as central laws were not applicable in the state which is now a Union Territory (UT) . It is now more than a year since several  central laws have been extended to Jammu & Kashmir but people are yet to get the benefits of these laws especially those laws which are very progressive and pro-people.

Through this piece I will explain in detail how liberal and pro-people legislations like Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013), Forest Rights Act (FRA 2006 ) , Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989  or even Right to Information Act (RTI) are not implemented on the ground.

More than 7 years back, when the Congress led UPA-II came up with Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013), it was neither extended to J&K nor was a similar law enacted by JK Govt.  From 2013 onwards, the ultimate sufferers have been people of J&K especially those agrarian families whose land and property was acquired for various developmental projects like highways, road widening, construction of dams, power projects, defence estates etc

Successive Governments also Responsible 

Affected people in towns, cities and villages whose land, commercial establishments and residential houses came under alignment of various developmental projects have been demanding fair compensation for the last many years but successive Governments in J&K were adamant to replace the J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 for unknown reasons. I am not only blaming the present BJP lead Modi Govt for this as successive state Govt’s in J&K are also very much responsible for not repealing JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 in past.  Affected farmers protested over this several times  but nobody paid any attention towards them.  J&K RTI Movement too has been advocating for a robust land acquisition law in J&K right from 2012 onwards, when center was drafting the RFCTLARR Bill. I have written almost two dozen columns on this subject during the last 8 years, but neither NC-Congress Govt nor PDP- BJP Government took steps to extend RFCTLARR Act 2013 to J&K nor was similar state law enacted by J&K legislature.  I even met with the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti  when she was in power.

86 year old law repealed 

The archaic J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 enacted during Maharaja Hari Singh’s period got automatically repealed after abrogation of Article 370. The benefits of this law are yet to reach the affected people of J&K. Government is denying acquiring land under new law in Budgam district where farmers are losing 3700 kanals (480 acres) of agricultural land. The same is coming in the alignment of Srinagar Ring Road project.  In most of the cases due to efflux of time, the notification issued under JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 almost 4 years back stands lapsed. This has been authenticated by the Deputy Commissioner Budgam as well in his official communication with Divisional Commissioner Kashmir in May this year vide letter No: DCB/LAS/20/300-10 Dated: 18.05.2020. Nobody is ready to listen to the affected farmers while on the other hand Government claims to be saviors of farmers and kissans.  J&K Govt wants to conclude the land acquisition proceedings under an outdated and repealed law which doesn’t apply to J&K anymore. This is unacceptable to affected farmers.

Ring Road Project   

PM Narendra Modi in May 2019 inaugurated two Ring Road projects in J&K aimed at decongesting traffic in Jammu and Srinagar cities. In Jammu, around 400 acres (3200 kanals) of land has already been acquired for a 58-km highway. The work on the project has been going on. Affected farmers have been denied fair compensation as the proceedings were undertaken under JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 plus the stamp rates in Jammu district were very low. The land acquisition process has been completed there.  For Srinagar Ring Road, 600 acres (4800 kanals) of agricultural land is going to be acquired for  62-km highway connecting Pulwama with Ganderbal via Budgam. Srinagar Ring Road will cross through Pampore , Wathoora Chadoora , Budgam, Dharmuna , Narbal and then pass via Srinagar’s western outskirts in Rambir Garh and enter Ganderbal after crossing the  Srinagar Bandipora road. Affected people, especially the farmers in Budgam and some other districts under the banner of Ring Road Land Owners Welfare Committee have been demanding fair compensation from 2017 onwards. There were legal issues in the past but now the Government can invoke the fair compensation law but they seem to be reluctant.

Old Notification has lapsed  

Massive urbanization and population growth have led to shrinking of farmlands in Kashmir.  The land which was sold for Rs 80 lakhs an acre (Rs 10 lakhs / kanal)  a decade back is now sold @ Rs 5 to 6 crores / acre. The land rates around Budgam district have gone very high due to its better connectivity with Srinagar city. The authorities on the other hand are trying to acquire the same for a meager compensation.  After abrogation of article 370, we lost several state institutions and good laws like J&K RTI Act 2009 , but Right to Fair compensation, Forest Rights Act (FRA-2006) and SC ST prevention of atrocities act 1989 are few central laws that could have been beneficial to us. It seems authorities at helm don’t want to give the benefits of these laws to people.

In Jammu, district land for Jammu Ring Road project has already been acquired for peanuts and some months back, one affected land owner, Harbans Lal committed suicide at Bishnah.   People are losing apple orchards , plum orchards , paddy fields and vegetable farms in Budgam. In other districts like Pulwama and Srinagar authorities have almost completed the land acquisition proceedings for Srinagar Ring Road project. In these districts, the affected farmers were not much in number, but in Budgam district this got delayed and final awards of many villages have not been finalized and thus the Government could not take possession of the land. During the same time J&K’s Land Acquisition Act 1934 got repealed post article 370 abrogation and from October 31st 2019 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) got applicable in J&K .

The authorities want to take possession of the land by invoking provisions of old law (JK Land Acquisition Act 1934). This is a completely ridiculous and unfair practice which the affected farmers are opposing. In some cases the High Court of J&K has stayed the land acquisition proceedings and Government has been directed through an interim order to issue fresh notification in case farmers continue to be in possession of land. The respondents are not even filing the counter statement before the High Court especially in cases of Ali Mohammad Akhoon V/S State of J&K and Abdul Salam Bhat V/S State of J&K.

Awards to be made within 2 yrs 

Many affected families in Budgam have been paid some part of the compensation by the district collector in past but this is an advance money which can be paid to affected persons as per the repealed JK Land Acquisition Act 1934. Authorities call it a tentative award, but there is no mention of this word in any land acquisition law. Award means final award only which was awaited but has got automatically lapsed even under the provisions of section 11-B of erstwhile J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 samvat 1990 which reads as

Collector shall make award under section 11 within a period of 2 years from the date of the publication of the declaration”. In case of Budgam it is almost 4 years now since the land acquisition notification under section 4 and 6 was published (March 2017, August 2017 respectively)

Taking this into consideration, land acquisition proceedings in almost 20 villages have lapsed and the Deputy Commissioner has sent a detailed list to the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. Section 24 sub section 1 & 2 of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act -RFCTLARR Act 2013 also has a similar provision which reads as:

“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, in any case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, — (a) where no award under section 11 of the said Land Acquisition Act has been made, then, all provisions of this Act relating to the determination of compensation shall apply.

Pertinently, the 1894 land acquisition act was applicable across India (except J&K)  prior to enactment of 2013 Right to Fair compensation law. In our case, 1894 law can be equated with J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934.

There are some villages where not even a single penny has been taken as compensation by the farmers like villages of Wathoora and Buchroo and in such cases Government has to invoke the new land acquisition act by issuing a fresh notification but it seems Government isn’t ready to do that. On the other hand, Financial Commissioner Revenue some months back okayed the awards sent by the present DC Budgam which is completely illegal as the awards have lost their validity due to time efflux, plus JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 having been repealed .

Termination of Contract 

Infrastructure company namely M/S RAMKY Infra was allotted the contract for Srinagar Ring Road project after necessary bidding process. The Letter of Award (LoA) was issued to them on March 5th 2018 by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) which is the intending agency. On December 7th 2019, M/S RAMKY Infra gave Termination of Contract (ToC) notice to NHAI as the Government failed to acquire the land from the farmers especially in Budgam district. As mentioned above, the then Deputy Commissioner Budgam has clearly intimated the Government that notification issued in 2017 has lapsed in case of almost 20 villages as final awards could not be finalized even after more than 3 years which otherwise has to be completed within 2 years as per section 11-B of JK land acquisition act 1934 (now repealed).

Conclusion 

The Govt instead of issuing fresh notification for Srinagar Ring Road under Right to Fair compensation law, is adamant to conclude land acquisition proceedings under an outdated and repealed law (JK Land Acquisition Act 1934). This is completely unjust and a legal fraud which is unacceptable to people. Similarly, before rolling out Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) in J&K, Government wanted to evict forest dwellers by invoking Indian Forest Act of 1927 which is a 93-year-old law. FRA 2006 ensures scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers living in a forest area for 3 generations or more to get right over the forest land for agriculture and allied activities but before this law could be enforced on ground Forest officials started issuing eviction notices to people living near forests especially in district Budgam. In village Kanidajan, 10,000 apple trees were axed and till date no action has been taken against the accused. Action could have been taken against accused officials under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 popularly known as Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA)  but this law is all not being rolled out. In case of RTI Act 2005 , the Public Information Officers (PIOs) continue to deny information to applicants and the Govt has not even held a single training workshop for officials.  Aggrieved have now moved to Central Information Commission (CIC) against PIOs of DC office Budgam , Rural Development Department Civil Secretariat and Services Selection Board (SSB) as JK State Information Commission (SIC) was shut down post 370 abrogation.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  •  Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. For Feedback [email protected]m 

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