The month-long anti-encroachment drive in Jammu and Kashmir to retrieve government land has been halted following an intervention by the Union Home Ministry, a government source told The Hindu.
The Union Territory administration has been asked to issue notices and give proper hearing to residents before arriving with bulldozers.
A J&K administration official, however, denied that the drive had been halted and said that “geo-tagging and geo-referencing” of the retrieved land was going on. The official said the drive to recover public land was being done as per a 2020 order of the J&K High Court to scrap the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting Ownership to the Occupants) Act, popularly known as the Roshni Act.
The court, in an order on October 9, 2020, directed that details of “State land in unauthorised occupation” should be disclosed on the government’s website, along with the names of the beneficiaries under the Roshni Act.
“The list has been in public domain since 2020. Notices were served to illegal occupants. After they did not bother to vacate the land, the action was taken,” the official said.
On January 9, the Revenue Department issued a circular stating that “all Deputy Commissioners (DC) shall ensure that all encroachment on State land, including Roshni land and Kaccharie (grazing) land, are removed to the extent of 100% by January 31”.
It asked the DCs to draw a daily anti-encroachment drive plan, personally monitor it and submit a report by 5 p.m. everyday to the Administration Department.
‘Against influential people’
The official said there was an “unsaid policy” to not touch the property of the poor and the marginalised and the action was against the influential people who misused their position and grabbed land.
“Firstly, no homes have been demolished in the ongoing anti-encroachment drive. Encroachment has been removed from where people misused their position and grabbed land. Typical of J&K, they thought they were entitled to grab as much land as they want. Whatever narrative is being created is incorrect,” the official said.
The official added that in three specific cases where it was found that the poor were being targeted, no action was taken.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday took stock of the situation in J&K, including the eviction drive, during a meeting with senior officials of the Union Territory administration.
The official added the drive was initiated to establish the rule of law in J&K and that only voices from across the border had opposed the drive.
The official denied that the eviction drive in both Jammu division and Kashmir Valley had been paused. “The eviction drive has not stopped. It is just that the land that has been retrieved so far is being geo-tagged and digitised. It cannot be that we keep removing encroachments and losing them at the same time. There is a written order that all such land has to be geo-referenced so that the same activity is not resumed again,” the official said.
Asked why the 2020 court order was being implemented now, the official said, “The court order under Roshni Act was not implemented properly. The earlier regime ran on four pillars – illegal contracts, illegal land, illegal jobs and illegal banking. All the four pillars are gone now. The common man is happy with the current drive.”
All parties in J&K have been critical of the administration’s actions. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti said in an interview to The Hindu on February 10 that the number of people who have encroached government land cannot run into thousands and lakhs and no norms were being followed before razing homes with bulldozers.