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Large tracks, high-value land target of anti-encroachment drive; poor people not on priority: Bidhuri

JAMMU: As the Jammu and Kashmir government gears up to execute its mega anti-encroachment drive, targeting retrieval of State land including Roshni and Kahcharai by the end of January 2023, the poor citizens of the union territory who have their houses and shops on small pieces of land are not on its priority list.

Asserting that the government is against the encroachments and not the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Vijay Bidhuri, the administrative head of the Revenue Department has said that the exercise is undertaken for the welfare of the people only, and government is committed to remove encroachments from large tracks, high-value land across the union territory.

“However, the poor people who have constructed their houses and set up their shops on small pieces of land across the region do not figure on the priority list,” Bidhuri told The Dispatch.

Bidhuri also dismissed the concerns regarding the legal validity of the exercise in view of a bunch of review petitions pending in the high court and supreme court- including one filed by the UT administration itself, saying that the court has not stayed its earlier orders of removal of encroachment and hence the government is legally bound to follow the directions.

In a significant development, the Commissioner Secretary to the Government, Department of Revenue, earlier this week issued directions to all the Deputy Commissioners to ensure 100% removal of encroachments from State land including Roshni and Kahcharai by 31st January, 2023,

Pointing towards instructions issued from time to time, he directed all twenty DCs to draw up a daily anti-encroachment drive plan with the Divisional Commissioners asked to monitor the drive on a regular basis. The DCs are required to furnish details about total encroached land on the day, encroachment removed day wise and balance so that the Government gets a clear picture about the progress made on each and every day till the January 31 deadline.

The move has come even while a review petition filed by the UT government remains pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court wherein the government has sought time to devise a policy to ensure that landless cultivators and single dwelling owners continue to remain in possession of land.

With a number of concerns from all quarters, Bidhuri sought to clarify that the common public will not suffer from the mega-drive.

“The government is a welfare state. We are against the encroachments and encroachers. The land retrieved will be used for public purposes which will in turn help in development of the local area. This exercise we are undertaking is for the people. We are not against the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Bidhuri told The Dispatch.

“We are committed to remove encroachments from large tracks, high-value land across the union territory. The action against them is happening and will happen in the days to come, in line with the directions of the court.

“However, the poor people who have constructed their houses and set up their shops on small pieces of land across the region do not figure on the priority list,” Bidhuri told The Dispatch.

It may be mentioned here that the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir headed by the then Chief Justice Gita Mittal had declared the Roshni Act unconstitutional in October 2020. and had taken away the benefits of regularization conferred upon the beneficiaries under the Roshni Act.

A number of review petitions were filed against the judgment in the high court, besides Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) in the Supreme Court of India. The J&K government itself filed a review petition, desiring slight modifications to formulate a policy for poor people who are having small dwelling houses and also for landless agriculturist category.

When asked about the possible timeline for devising the said policy, Bidhuri said that work on the same is going on.

“These people, including the landless cultivators, and those who have raised houses and shops on small parcels of land, are in our active consideration. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has also issued instructions in this regard and we will soon come up with a comprehensive policy,” he said.

In its review petition, the government has said that a large number of common people including landless cultivators and individuals who are themselves residing in dwellings in small areas, would suffer unintentionally.

“They are unfortunately clubbed along with the rich and wealthy land grabbers who have obtained a title over the state land through the provisions of the now-struck down act. There is a need to distinguish between these two classes of people. The fact of being either a landless cultivator or householder with at most one dwelling house in the personal use would be the primary criteria for differentiating between the two classes,” said the petition filed in the court.

“The government may be permitted at a future date to come up with an appropriate mechanism to enable this class of landless cultivators and single dwelling owners to continue to remain in possession of land, subject of course to an appropriate ceiling and on payment at an appropriate rate. However, there will be no relief, whatsoever for encroachers above these celings, or those who have built commercial properties over government land. No relief would also be provided to any other category such as institutional, commercial use and the title to the land would vest with the government,” it added.

The anti-encroachment drive has triggered slight panic, with questions from various quarters raised on the timing of the exercise, particularly in view of the matter being sub-judice.

Bidhuri, however, says the government is legally right in initiating the process of removing encroachments.

“As the head of the revenue department, it is my prime responsibility to protect the government land, Further, the government is following the instructions of the honourable court, which after striking down the Roshni act, directed for removal of encroachments. The court has not stayed the order and hence, we are legally bound to carry out the encroachment removal drive. However, big land parcels and high value land encroachment removal is on top priority and not the landless cultivators and single dwelling owners,” he reiterated.


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