Urgent Need for Orientation Programmes for Collectors   

File image of a protest for representational purposes only | Picture by author

ON July 27th this year, High Court of Jammu & Kashmir pronounced a landmark judgement on land acquisition. The division bench of the High Court prevented the district administration Ganderbal from acquiring land for widening and upgradation of Pandach Beehama- Ganderbal road.  Around 4 years back, the executing agency PWD (R&B) had invited tenders (NIT) for this road project when the land was yet to be acquired through a proper process under the erstwhile J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934. After the invitation of tender, the collector land acquisition Ganderbal issued notification under the section 4 and no further notifications were issued.The J&K High Court division bench of Chief Justice  Pankaj Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar in an order  said that as no declaration has been made under section 6 of J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 (now repealed) the notification issued under section 4 is simply a proposal to acquire the land and not a declaration to acquire the land.

The Court disposed off the petition titled Abdul Rahim Bhat v/s State and directed the Govt to proceed in accordance with the existing land acquisition law if they were in need of the land for road widening project.

The High Court order reads:

“The writ petition stands disposed of with a liberty to the respondents to proceed in accordance with law, if necessary, to acquire the land leaving it open for the petitioners to challenge the acquisition proceedings as and when the final notification to acquire the land is issued by the respondents. It is made clear that as the land has not been finally acquired, the ownership/ title of the land has not passed to the respondents and the petitioners are free to use it in the manner they so desire. The writ petition is, accordingly, disposed of

Fresh notification for land acquisition  

Now the Govt has to issue a fresh notification for the land acquisition and that will be issued under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) which is applicable in J&K post article 370 abrogation. Ironically, even after 2 years of its applicability in J&K , the land acquisition collectors are reluctant to issue notifications under this law which is considered to be quite progressive and people friendly.  RFCTLARR  Act 2013 is one of the half a dozen central laws that could benefit people of J&K but the Govt is not applying this law in many cases of land acquisition. Infact, the aggrieved persons Abdul Rahim Bhat and others had gone to High Court with the same prayer. The present collector land acquisition Ganderbal cannot issue section 6 notification under the J&K Land Acquisition Act of 1934 as the same is no more in operation post article 370 abrogation. Now, a fresh notification has to be issued under the RFCTLARR Act 2013 and Govt will have to pay 3 to 4 times more compensation to the affected landowners in Ganderbal. Had the revenue officers been familiar with the land revenue laws they would have issued the section 6 declaration soon after issuance of section 4 notification. Because of the lack of knowledge about the law, now the Govt will have to pay a huge amount as compensation which is a direct burden on the state exchequer.

Land Acquisition for Transmission Line 

This case is not exclusive to Ganderbal only but is also true of a similar ordeal in the Chatterhama area of Srinagar outskirts where, a few years back, Power Department was laying concrete foundation  for erecting electricity transmission towers for Alesteng – Mir Bazar transmission line. The land owners were not informed at all. When they raised their voice, the senior officers of the power department agreed to pay them compensation.  When the case was referred to Collector land acquisition Power Department Srinagar recently, the officer was reluctant to issue a notification under central law (RCFTLARR Act 2013). He didn’t want to bell the cat. This is what I could make out after having personally met him in this case. He was asking the affected landowners to take compensation as per the provisions of old law (JK Land Acquisition Act 1934) which has been repealed soon after abrogation of article 370.  I was shocked to hear him say this .

On the other hand, the power department has not only laid concrete foundations , they have even erected huge transmission towers and laid cables as well. This is simply an act of trespassing. There is a lack of training and awareness among the officers of the Revenue department as the Govt had not held any training workshops or orientation programmes for the officers.

Srinagar Ring Road  

As discussed in my previous articles on this subject, similar legal fraud is being committed to forcibly acquire more than 4000 kanals of agricultural land in almost 4 dozen villages of Budgam  for construction of Srinagar Ring Road. The affected farmers want application of the Right to Fair Compensation Act in the same way as affected parties in Ganderbal wanted. The declaration under section 6  for the Srinagar Ring Road project was issued in August 2017 in the villages of Choon , Razwen , Buchroo, Ganji Bagh , Gudsathoo,   Wathoora etc. It was thus mandatory for the Collector Land Acquisition, Budgam, to finalize the  awards by July 2019 i.e within 2 years as mandated under section 11-B of repealed J&K Land acquisition act 1934 . This section of the erstwhile act mandates the collector to complete acquisition proceedings within 2 years from the date of declaring an intent to acquire the land under section 6 of the Act. If he fails to do so, the notification and proceedings lapse & fresh notification has to be issued.  The awards were not prepared within stipulated time. The Collector had to issue fresh notification for Srinagar Ring Road land acquisition under the central Right to Fair Compensation Law (RFCTLARR Act 2013) but this was not done and instead the repealed obsolete law continues to be invoked.

While the center continues to claim the benefits of abrogating Article 370, on the ground, the situation is totally opposite.

Orientation workshops and training programmes are an urgent need to acquaint revenue officers especially those posted as collectors. It takes at least a year to get familiar with the land revenue laws. This means that it is only fair for the government to ensure that those set to be posted or those posted on this role are prepared for it. Usually, it is the KAS cadre that is engaged and by the time they acquaint themselves with the role, they’re shifted to some other role.

Therefore, the government needs to work proactively to educate all stakeholders and ensure that these laws are understood and followed in spirit.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own/details mentioned are their own responsibility and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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