By Ashraf Ali Malik
PRIOR to the influx of the Iranian/ Central Asian nomadic/ seminomadic pastorals/ herdsmen of Kashmir, people of the Burzhomic era lived in various tiny habitations without apparently any state structures. Agriculture was the main occupation and there seems to have been a lot of interaction among the differently located groups. Like elsewhere around the world, as soon as the elementary state structures appeared in different shapes and forms, agriculturists were rendered to serfdom. All along, for thousands of years, the peasants were condemned to an unending drudgery. Socially ostracized as a community/ class, these peasants were used as tilling machines, given only so much food to consume as would keep them able enough to work endlessly while the rest was snatched. All through half to three fourths of the produce was extracted by the state/ rulers and nothing changed with the change of regimes or the change of state/ rulers’ religion or the people. There was no concept of private ownership for the villagers and the land belonged to the state/ ruler and its/his henchmen. It was only in 1889 that the First Settlement Commissioner Andrew Wingate recommended conferment of ownership rights to the peasants on the land they were tilling but Walter Lawrence held otherwise and peasants were given only tenancy rights.
Right now, however, I would restrict myself to the tiny portions of land where the villagers would erect some residential accommodation and cowsheds for their cattle. In the subcontinent including Kashmir since Mughal times some portion of the land was denoted as Village Abadi ( Abadi Deh/Lal Dora) for the purpose. It is land in collective possession and ownership of the villagers although by now has been distinctly apportioned and is inherited in succession. Villagers always enjoyed significant freedom over these areas without any interference from the state even in metropolitan cities like Delhi where the Municipal Committees/ DDA rules don’t /didn’t apply. But with the establishment of the Municipal Committees in many villages in Jammu and Kashmir, construction over abadi deh land has been subjected to a set of complex Municipal and BOCA regulations. Again while the Common Regulations Act 1956 enjoined upon the state authorities to assign more lands for the village abadi, little seems to have been done on this count. And in the absence of such assignment of land to Abadi Deh, villagers are compelled to build on agricultural land for which another set of permissions in the shape of conversion is required from the revenue authorities. All this has made the life of the villagers miserable due to various reasons:
1. At least four to five permissions are required to be obtained from different departments and on an average it takes seven to ten days for getting one permission.
2. The villager has to submit a plan to the BOCA online but there is seldom someone available to guide him about the procedure.
3. There is no one around to counsel him about the set-backs, fire gaps and other building requirements at any of the Municipal Committee Offices.
4. With little Abadi Deh land available, the villager has to undergo hardships in getting the change of land use permission from the revenue authorities for constructing on agricultural land. State has done almost nothing in assigning more land in an organised manner for Village Abadi.
5. Farming in Jammu and Kashmir has always been and continues to be a difficult job due to the extreme unpredictable weather and the villagers hardly get a fortnight in the whole year when they can build a dwelling unit or a cowshed and it is impossible for them to get the chain of permissions as required.
6. Due to the cumbersome procedures the villagers are compelled to begin construction due to the small window of time available to them but immediately the Municipality people pounce upon them without following the basic requirements of informing or sending written notices.
7. Newly formed Municipal Committees are not at all acquainted with the regulations and the basic procedure while doing their assigned work. The people who work there in the absence of basic knowhow act like street goons in view of the disproportionate powers vested with them.
8. The authorities at the Municipalities have engaged a disproportionate number of daily wagers and it is these daily wagers who have been assigned the job of harassing and humiliating villagers on verbal orders of the authorities.
9. There is hardly any coordination among the elected members of the Municipal Committees and the Executive Officers deputed by the government.
Under the circumstances, the need of the hour is to assign more land to the village abadi/ abadi deh under the Common Land Development Act and to issue clear cut instructions that village abadi doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of Municipalities as is the case with other states. Or in the alternative abadi deh land should be taken out of the ambit of BOCA regulations and construction related matters be exclusively dealt by the local elected people of the Municipality without any interference by the Executive Officers deputed by the government. The latter would be in the spirit of real/ local democracy.
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