From last many years I have been writing on the issue of forcible land acquisition being undertaken in Jammu & Kashmir. The 86 year old legislation governing land acquisition in J&K [Jammu & Kashmir Land Acquisition Act 1934] was weak and obsolete. From last almost a decade there has been a strong demand from affected landowners, farmers and activists for enactment of a strong land acquisition law in Jammu & Kashmir. Farmers in J&K whose land is being acquired on large scale for various developmental projects have been demanding fair compensation but successive Governments in J&K were adamant to replace the J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934. Affected farmers, activists protested over this issue several times in past but nobody paid any attention towards them. On the other hand, Government replaced several old and outdated state laws in past. The archaic J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 got automatically repealed after abrogation of Article 370, but the benefits of the new law are yet to reach out to the affected people as Government wants to deny benefits of this law to the affected people whose land is being acquired but have not received final payment.
Under the J&K Reorganization Act 2019 around 153 central laws have been extended to J&K. This includes Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013). For the information of readers 166 State laws of Jammu & Kashmir have been protected and continue to remain in force. In addition to this 07 (seven) state laws also continue to remain in force but with some amendments.
Many state laws which were beneficial to people of J&K got repealed after abrogation of article 370. J&K RTI Act 2009 is one such law that was enacted in year 2009 soon after Omar Abdullah took over as J&K’s Chief Minister. Omar Abdullah lead Government repealed J&K RTI Act 2004 which was enacted during PDP- Congress Government in year 2004.
When UPA-I Government at center enacted RTI Act 2005, our organization (JK RTI Movement) launched a campaign for having a similar law in Jammu & Kashmir. National Conference (NC) assured people in their 2008 election manifesto to enacted a strong RTI law provided they come to power. NC formed the Government with the support of Congress in December 2008 and on March 20th 2009 state assembly passed J&K RTI Act 2009. The J&K RTI Act of 2009 (now repealed) was a more robust and progressive law than RTI Act 2005 (central law). Instead of being protected like 166 other state laws it was arbitrarily repealed.
Some central laws that could have been beneficial to people in J&K are not implemented as per the legal provisions contained in these laws. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) is one such law that has been extended to J&K but the provisions contained in this act are not applied in letter and spirit in Jammu & Kashmir. On the other hand Government claims people especially farmers have been benefitted by abrogation of article 370.
Injustice with farmer
Aftermath of article 370 abrogation, J&K Government on daily basis kept issuing advertisements on front page of local newspapers claiming youth, women and farmers would get benefitted as according to them article 370 was an impediment in J&K’s growth and development which otherwise is not at all true. As successive elected Governments had failed to repeal 85 year old, obsolete and outdated J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934, a little hope was generated with the applicability of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) in J&K. Under this law people especially the farmers affected by land acquisition are supposed to get 3 to 4 times more compensation than the market value of land. This law also guarantees rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected people. There is a clear provision in RFCTLARR 2013 that the law applies to those affected people as well wherein the acquisition process was initiated under the old land acquisition act, but the final awards and payments were yet to be made. In addition to it there is a clear mention that if the awards were made more than 5 years back and possession of land was not taken by Government such people were also entitled for the benefit of 2013 law.
Section 24 sub section 1 & 2 of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act -RFCTLARR Act 2013 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; or (b) where an award under said section 11 has been made, then such proceedings shall continue under the provisions of the said Land Acquisition Act, as if the said Act has not been repealed. (2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), in case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (1 of 1894), where an award under the said section 11 has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of this Act but the physical possession of the land has not been taken or the compensation has not been paid the said proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed and the appropriate Government, if it so chooses, shall initiate the proceedings of such land acquisition afresh in accordance with the provisions of this Act (Right to Fair Compensation law- RFCTLARR Act 2013) “
The Land Acquisition Act 1894 was applicable to all the states of India except J&K. This law was in vogue prior to enactment of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act -2013 (RFCTLARR Act 2013). In case of J&K state as already mentioned, the J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 was in force. This law was adopted by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1934 when British India was following Land Acquisition Act 1894. After independence Government of India also protected this law until 2013.
As J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 law was much progressive than Indian Land Acquisition Act of 1894 , the Government headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1948 protected this legislation like many other laws of Maharaja.
With the passage of time Government of India replaced 1894 law by enacting RFCTLARR Act in 2013 during UPA-II Government, but the elected Governments in J&K (NC-Congress, PDP-BJP ) did not change the old law on the ground that Government will have to pay huge compensation to affected people especially farmers. In-fact I along with a group of other activists had a meeting with former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on this issue in January 2017 at Jammu. She agreed that J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 needs to be revoked and replaced with a new law , but her law Minister Abdul Haq Khan who was present in the meeting quickly intervened and mislead her on the pretext that Government will have to pay huge compensation to farmers and other affected people.
Ring Road projects
In May 2019, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated two Ring Road projects in J&K aimed at decongesting traffic in Jammu and Srinagar cities. In Jammu around 400 acres of land has been acquired for a 58-km highway. The work has already started in Jammu last year. For Srinagar Ring Road 500 acres of land is going to be acquired for 62-km highway connecting Pulwama with Ganderbal via Budgam. Srinagar highway will cross through Srinagar Gulmarg road and then pass via Srinagar’s western outskirts and enter Ganderbal via Srinagar Bandipora road. Work for Srinagar project was allotted to an infrastructure company namely M/S RAMKY Infra 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 Government failed to acquire the land from the farmers. Some 40 to 50 % farmers in Kashmir valley have been paid some compensation by respective collectors but this is an advance money which can be paid to affected persons as per JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 guidelines. The final award is still awaited. The Ring Road projects entail acquisition of already limited farmland. In Budgam district alone which is the most affected district over 5000 fully-grown apple, walnut, plum and other fruit trees are set to be axed. Similarly in Jammu district around 400 acres of land has already been acquired by Government but compensation has not been paid to everyone on one reason or the other.
The process of land acquisition was initiated under J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 in year 2016. More than three years have lapsed and not even 1 % of the work has started on Srinagar Ring Road project. In case of Jammu project, the awards have been prepared arbitrarily and payment also disbursed to 70 to 80 % farmers but the compensation paid is very meager as Government rate of land in most of the affected villages is much less than the market value. In some villages like Ban Sultan, Malikpura and Kangrail villages of Jammu district which I have personally visited the market rate is 5 to 10 times higher than the Government rate (circle rate). Same is the case in Srinagar. The market rate of land in Budgam, Srinagar and Pulwama districts is much higher and Government plans to take away the land for peanuts which farmers are resisting. The RFCTLARR Act 2013 will apply automatically for Ring Road projects in J&K but the authorities want to conclude the process under J&K ‘s obsolete Land Acquisition Act 1934 thus depriving affected people especially the farmers the benefits of new law which exposes the intentions of the Government. On Dec 31st Lt Governor (LG) of J&K G C Murmu held a meeting with state and NHAI officials on the issue of Ring Road projects and I believe LG has not been properly briefed by the officials of NHAI vis a vis Ring Road projects in Srinagar and Jammu. He must directly talk to affected farmers. The affected farmers from Kashmir valley were camping in Jammu for 15 days last year in order to seek an appointment with the then Governor Satyapal Malik but they were not given an appointment. Although the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) which invited tenders for Ring Road projects had conveyed to the J&K Government in writing few years back that if J&K Government was willing to adopt the central law , NHAI had no objection to make payment under the same (RFCTLARR Act 2013). However the then state Government did not consider the proposal for undisclosed but extraneous considerations. In some cases money has been received by farmers under protest while as in many cases the compensation has not at all been paid.
Land Acquisition near Srinagar Airport
In 2012 Defence Estates Department made a requisition to J&K Government for acquiring around 480 acres of land (3800 kanals approximately) near Srinagar airport at estate Karewa Damodar. The said land belongs to farmers from three to four villages of Budgam district. The process for land acquisition began under J&K Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Properties Act 1968 (JK RAIP Act 1968 ) in the year 2011, but till date the final payment is yet to be disbursed. As the J&K RAIP Act 1968 has been repealed under the JK Reorganization Act 2019, the farmers are being forced to take payment under the same old law. Ironically the payment under J&K RAIP Act 1968 is also not being made as the file is pending in Ministry of Defence from last 1 year. Government (Collector Budgam) has fixed Rs 18 lakh per kanal as compensation rate but the market value in the same area outside airport premises is more than Rs 1 crore per kanal (around Srinagar airport). The Ministry of Defence has to refer the case to Union Cabinet but this is being constantly delayed. The farmers are forced to take Rs 18 lakhs per kanal which otherwise would cost Rs 1 crore per kanal or more. Even the payment @ Rs 18 lakhs is also not made and from last 8 years affected people are moving from pillar to post.
It is worthwhile to mention that when Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act -2013 (RFCTLARR Act 2013) was enacted , Government of India repealed several laws related to land acquisition. Among these repealed laws was Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Properties Act 1952 (RAIP Act 1952). But the J&K Government continued to follow its own J&K RAIP Act of 1968 which has now been repealed after abrogation of Article 370. This means land acquisition at estate Karewa Damodara (Srinagar airport) has also to be concluded under RFCTLARR Act 2013 as final payment is yet to be made. The authorities are completely silent on this. Farmers and affected people are neither able to cultivate their land nor are being paid compensation nor rent. This whole land (around 480 acres-3800 kanals) is located in a high security zone with huge boundary wall and fencing all around. From 1965 to 2011 the farmers were paid annual rent for their land and after 2011 when the land acquisition process began, the payment of rent has also been withheld. Affected people / farmers had been paid some advance money in 2012 (Rs 4.80 lakhs / kanal) and same was taken under protest by the affected farmers.
Compensation for fruit trees
In case of Ring Road project the compensation was to be accessed both for land and also for the crop which includes fruit and non-fruit bearing trees. The assessment for fruit bearing trees was made as per the old schedule of 1993 wherein compensation paid to apple trees is fixed @ Rs 16 / kg while as the present retail rate of this fruit is Rs 50 to 100 in open market. For mango trees the compensation was assessed @ Rs 16 per kg while as same also sells for Rs 50 to Rs 100 per kg in market. A mango orchard in Bishnah area of Jammu belonging to Mr S K Dubey was axed recently while as compensation is yet to be paid. If he is paid compensation that would be 5 to 6 times less than the actual market value. The officials came and forcibly cut down 85 year old mango trees of Mr Dubey. Same is the case with other fruits and nobody is listening to the woes of affected farmers whose thousands of fruit bearing trees are coming under alignment of Ring Road projects. While assessment was being made the horticulture department officials didn’t follow any guidelines. An apple or plum tree that could fetch 100 to 150 kgs of fruit was shown to fetch mere 15 to 20 kgs of fruit only. The officials of Horticulture department looted farmers and took hefty amount as bribe during assessment of fruit trees. Those who didn’t pay were paid 5 to 10 times less compensation. The affected farmers were forced to get a stay order from JK High Court thus disallowing authorities to axe the fruit trees in Budgam and parts of Srinagar.
Many fruit trees have earlier been axed during laying of a huge transmission line from Samba in Jammu to Amargad in Baramulla. The company which undertook this 440 KV DC Samba Amargad transmission line project made payments arbitrarily and hundreds of hectares of farm land has been affected. The people affected with this transmission line have not been paid any compensation. In-fact more than 50,000 forest trees were also axed during this process and compensation paid to Forest department is 10 times less than the market value of these forest trees.
The average size of operational landholdings in India, according to 2015 Agriculture Census was 1.08 hectares. During 2011 census this figure was bit higher ie 1.15 hectares. It indicates agriculture land is shrinking day by day. In Jammu & Kashmir the average agriculture landholding is around 0.56 hectares which was bit more during agriculture census of 2011. This is much less than the national average. This figure is far less for the districts in the Kashmir valley as limited agriculture land is constantly being acquired for developmental projects like highways , railways , power projects , power transmission lines, tunnels , flyovers etc. Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) is in search of 50 to 60 acres of land for creating a scientific landfill site in city outskirts but from last 10 years they are not able to get this land as the same is not available at all with the result existing landfill site is getting chocked and emits foul smell constantly.
Most of the farming community in J&K fall under category of marginal farmers as their operational land holding is between 0.5 to 1.o hectares only. Not even 5 % of them are large or medium group farmers as per the Ministry of Agriculture guidelines. In such a scenario any policy related to agricultural land acquisition in J&K, including for “development projects”, has to take into account Jammu & Kashmir’s unique natural and topographical features. Instead of paying more compensation to farmers of J&K for land acquisition, they are even denied the compensation that authorities pay in other states and on the other hand a false narrative is being created that people in J&K are getting benefitted after abrogation of article 370.