Ring Road affected people of Kashmir were forced to travel to New Delhi to meet Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.
WHEN the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) report was prepared for the Srinagar Semi Ring Road project around 2016-17, the Government of India had decided to acquire land under the National Highways Act 1956 which was applicable to Jammu & Kashmir even before the abrogation of Article 370. However, when the actual land acquisition process started, the notification was issued under Jammu & Kashmir Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990), thus depriving people of fair compensation.
Interestingly, according to EIA and EMP reports, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had suggested acquiring the land under the central law (NH Act 1956). The appendix page 15, Serial No XIVII (compliance of TOR) clearly mentions that affected families of Srinagar Semi Ring Road whose land or property comes under the alignment of the project will be paid compensation as per National Highway Act 1956. Yet this act was not invoked even as this law was applicable to J&K even before the revocation of Article 370.
Sequence of events
National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has acquired hundreds of acres of farmland for the Srinagar Ring Semi Road project in Kashmir. In Budgam district alone, more than 600 acres of farmland (4800 Kanals) have been acquired. Hundreds of families have been affected as they lost a major chunk of their agricultural land. The affected districts are Budgam and some parts of Srinagar, Baramulla and Pulwama. When the initial notification for land acquisition was issued in 2017 by J&K Govt, the central government’s Right to Fair Compensation Act and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR Act) was not applicable to Jammu & Kashmir.
The Government failed to provide compensation to many affected farmers within the two years stipulated time under this law. Therefore, the notification issued by the government in 2017 technically lapsed.
However, the Government invoked the obsolete J&K Land Acquisition Act, 1934, (Samvat 1990) which was repealed soon after J&K’s special status was withdrawn on 5 August 2019, to carry on this process. Even in 2023, this 90-year-old law enacted by the then Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh is applicable for acquiring left out land in BK Pora Tehsil and Mamath area of Budgam district which makes it evident from the fact that the authorities at helm do not want to give the benefits of the Right to Fair Compensation Act, 2013, to the affected farmers of J&K, particularly those affected by the Srinagar Semi Ring Road project.
Fruit Trees Axed Uprooted
The apple, pear, and plum trees falling within the areas designated for the road are to be axed but in this matter too, the government prepared a compensation plan as per the rates that were applicable in 1995.
The final compensation for fruit trees was fixed at Rs. 16 per kilo for apple trees, Rs. 13 per kilo for plum trees, and Rs. 14 per kilo for pear trees. This was unacceptable as cultivators wanted valuation to be done according to the prevailing market rates. Their trees were uprooted and axed last year in March and they were not even given a notice or chance to replant these as there are ways to do the same.
On 13 August 2020, the Financial Commissioner (Revenue) issued a communication (letter No: FC -LS/LA-4577/2017) conveying to the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, approval for the rates at which land would be acquired in six villages of Budgam district, namely, Gund-e-Kuzwera, Wathoora, Jawaharpora, Ichgam, Dharmuna, and Waterwani.
The Financial Commissioner (Revenue), who has been made the “competent authority” in the matter, approved the rates under the repealed 1934 Act. He did so after the awards were prepared by the Collector Land Acquisition, Budgam. This approval was given by the “competent authority” after a gap of almost three-and-a-half years, which violates the repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 (Samvat 1990) and the Right to Fair Compensation Act, 2013, applicable in the Union Territory of J&K ever since the abrogation of Article 370.
Ironically, the approved rates are much lower than even the government’s stamp rates for 2020. Section 11 of the J&K repealed Act mandates the acquiring authority to complete acquisition proceedings within 02 years of declaring an intent to acquire the land under section 6 of the Act. If it fails to do so, the notification and proceedings lapse according to section 11-B of the 1934 Act (now repealed).
For instance, the notification under section 4 was issued on 20 March 2017 regarding village Wathoora in Budgam and the declaration under section 6 was made in August 2017. It was thus mandatory for the Collector, Land Acquisition, Budgam, to finalise the acquisition process and make an award before August 2019.
Letter from DC Budgam
On 18 May 2020, an official communication (No: DCB/LAS/20/300-10) was sent by the Deputy Commissioner, Budgam to the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir. The letter contains a comprehensive village-wise status report about the acquisition of land for the construction of the Srinagar Ring Road.
The DC Budgam clearly discloses in his communication that in several villages, no approval of the award has been received from the competent authority. He also admits that the land acquisition proceedings for these villages have lapsed due to efflux of time.
The Deputy Commissioner Budgam then seeks instructions from the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to initiate fresh proceedings under the Central Land Acquisition Act in the following terms:
“Guide if the land acquisition matters of villages detailed at (a) of the communication are to be initiated afresh as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013.”
The DC’s request was bypassed and awards were passed in 2021. This was challenged in the High Court who ordered in an interim order that fresh awards be passed but that was not done. In at least 4 cases the J&K High Court declared awards null and void which had been passed after efflux of time in the case of Abdul Salam Bhat v/s J&K Govt, Abdul Rahim Bhat v/s J&K Govt , Kishen Singh Bishen Singh v/s J&K Govt and IUST Awantipora land acquisition case . In all these orders, the High Court directed that fresh notification be issued under central law (RFCTLARR Act 2013).
NHAI: Pay compensation as per RFCTLARR Act
On 4.10.2017 the Project Implementing Unit of NHAI in their communication addressed to Deputy Commissioner Budgam had agreed to pay compensation to affected people under Right to Fair Compensation Act 2013 as private negotiation (PNC) was not possible for bulk land acquisition but it was unclear why J&K Govt didn’t adopt that law that time.
Land acquisition around Rakhi Shalina
The land falling under survey numbers 1994 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000 in village Rakhi Shalina, Tehsil BK Pora, District Budgam was demarcated by Collector land acquisition Budgam in August 2022 in the presence of all land holders for the construction of Semi Ring Road. Locals are ready to give their land but want just and fair compensation. However, they are being told that their land would be acquired under the repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990). How can the Govt invoke an obsolete and outdated law which is not operational anymore? On the other hand, the Semi Ring Road phase 2 from Shadipora to Wuyan Ganderbal notification was issued under National Highway Act 1956 some months back. Why isn’t land in Rakhi Shalina also acquired under the same notification?
Shahadara Sharief case
In Shahdara Sharief in district Rajouri around 8 kanals (1 acre) land was to be acquired by Govt for some public purpose (expansion of Ziyarat Sharief). The declaration to acquire land was made under J&K Land Acquisition Act samvat 1990 some years back. The alignment was changed later and the intending authority wanted some other patch of land. By this time, article 370 had been repealed and central law was extended to J&K (RFCTLARR Act). The Revenue department referred the matter to the Department of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs for advice and opinion. The Law Department vide U.O. No. Law-Opn2/48/2022-10 dated 19.04.2022 advised that central law (RFCTLARR Act 2013) be applied. The Revenue Department later on issued a fresh notification which read:
“In terms of Clause (14) of Jammu & Kashmir Re-organisation (Removal of Difficulties) Order, 2019, anything done or any action taken under any law (repealed now) shall be deemed to have been done or taken under the corresponding provisions of the Central Laws now extended and applicable to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Land Acquisition Act, Svt. 1990 (repealed Act) shall be deemed to have been initiated under the corresponding provision of the Central Laws i.e. “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act, 2013”.
Therefore, the department is advised that any new action including withdrawal/de-notifying land in question may be taken under Section 93 of the Central Act, 2013″.
Contradictions and Biases
As the land holding of J&K is less than half acre and agricultural land is shrinking day by day, the aggrieved people should be compensated proportionately. The landowners and farmers affected by the Srinagar Ring road have held several protests in the past but they’ve been ignored. Even when the High Court gave several orders and judgements, they were not implemented.
If aggrieved parties in big states like Gujarat,Maharashtra or Karnataka get four times more compensation than market value of land, why aren’t affected people in J&K getting even the market value of the land? In Jammu district, land which valued Rs 40 to 50 lakhs per kanal was acquired for mere Rs 1.50 to 4 lakhs per kanal in Malikpura and surrounding areas of Bishnah on the Jammu Ring Road project. The reason is the stamp duty of the area is very less. Why wasn’t National Highways Act 1956 invoked to acquire the land even as EIA and EMP of Srinagar Semi Ring Road project clearly said that land would be acquired under this act?
As the affected people met with the Union Minister Nitin Gadkari in New Delhi recently, they are now seeing a new ray of hope. They have demanded that a high level committee be appointed by the Union Minister to look into these grievances considering all the social, legal and geographical aspects.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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