Is this practically possible in a land-deficient Kashmir valley?
Recently the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, during a meeting regarding Town Planning Schemes (TPSs), along the upcoming Srinagar Semi Ring Road, said that there will be no construction zone in the 500 meters on both sides of the proposed Ring Road. This alternative highway will connect Pampore with Ganderbal via Budgam and will help decongest the traffic of Srinagar and other major towns of Kashmir valley. The meeting was attended by many top officials including Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Additional DC Budgam, Commissioner SMC, Chief Town Planner and others. The Project Director National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) looking after the Ring Road project was also present during the meeting. Through this article I would like to put my viewpoint vis a vis creating a no construction zone on both sides of this proposed highway. In fact I have always been very vocal on sustainable development and a proponent of protecting our farmlands and conservation of environment and ecology, but in a place like Kashmir valley where land is shrinking and population growing day by day, it seems the proposal, if okayed, will have severe consequences in future.
Ring Road Project
The Ring Road project, also called Srinagar Semi Ring Road, was inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi in May 2019. There are two such projects in J & K aimed at decongesting traffic in Jammu, and Srinagar cities. In Jammu, around 400 acres (3200 kanals) of land has already been acquired for a 58-km highway. The work on the project has been going on. Affected farmers have been denied fair compensation as the proceedings were undertaken under JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990) plus the stamp rates in Jammu district were very low. The land acquisition process has been completed there. For the Srinagar Ring Road, 600 acres (4800 kanals) of agricultural land is going to be acquired for a 62-km highway connecting Pulwama with Ganderbal via Budgam. Srinagar Ring Road will cross through Pampore, Wathoora, Gudsathoo, Ichgam, Budgam, Dharmuna, Narbal and then pass via Srinagar’s western outskirts in Rambir Garh and enter Ganderbal after crossing the Srinagar Bandipora road. Affected people, especially the farmers in Budgam and some other districts under the banner of Ring Road Land Owners Welfare Committee have been demanding fair compensation from 2017 onwards. There were legal issues in the past but after abrogation of article 370, the Government could have invoked the fair compensation law which became applicable in J&K from Oct 31st 2019.
Awards got lapsed
The notification issued under section 6 of repealed JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990) got automatically lapsed in many villages of Budgam district as the awards could not be prepared within 2 years of time from the date of issuance of section 6 notification. The section 11-B of repealed JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 explains this in detail and even the Deputy Commissioner Budgam made a communication with Divisional Commissioner through an official communication (No: DCB/LAS/20/300-10 dated 18th May 2020) wherein he updated him about awards having being lapsed due to efflux of time in more than two dozen villages. The letter contained a comprehensive village-wise status report about the acquisition of land for the construction of the Srinagar Ring Road. The Deputy Commissioner, Budgam then sought 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 High Court of J&K has taken a serious notice of this issue and already an interim order has been issued directing Govt to take possession of land under alignment of Srinagar Ring Road under central law in Wathoora area ( Ali Mohammad Akhoon and Abdul Salam Bhat v/s Govt of J&K). It is hoped that High Court of J&K will give its final verdict on the issue soon as already three similar cases have been disposed of wherein Govt was directed to acquire land in Awantipora, Ramban and Baramulla areas under Right to Fair Compensation Act (central law).
No construction Zone
On the one hand Govt is depriving the affected farmers of fair compensation for their landed property around Srinagar Semi Road and on the other hand Govt is planning for creating a no construction zone of 500 meters (half a kilometre) area. Because of very small land holdings, the majority of the farmers in Jammu & Kashmir are officially recognised as marginal farmers. The size of small agricultural landholdings in J&K was estimated at 0.55 hectares during the agriculture census 2015-16, but unofficial sources say that land holding is much smaller (around 0.40 hectares ). In Kashmir valley, the size is even smaller. During the 2010-2011 agriculture census, the average size of operational land holdings in India was 1.15 hectares. This figure was lower, at 0.62 hectares in Jammu and Kashmir. Districts in Kashmir valley had even lower landholding sizes than the state as a whole. Kulgam 0.39 hectares, Anantnag 0.39 , Shopian 0.56, Pulwama 0.48, Srinagar 0.31, Budgam 0.43, Baramulla 0.51, Ganderbal 0.37, Kupwara 0.51, Bandipora 0.48. This figure again came down during the 2015-16 census. Unofficial sources say that the agricultural land holding in Kashmir valley is much less than what has been shown in 2016 agriculture census. I have been told that this is less than 4 kanals ( less than ½ acre). On the other hand, agricultural land holding in states like MP, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal or Rajasthan is more than 30 kanals ( 3 to 4 acres). When the governments in these states don’t issue orders like setting up no construction zones around 500 meters of the highways, how can the Govt of J&K issue such an order in a land-deficient Kashmir valley ? Where shall people living within, or around, 500 meters of Ring Road construct their houses or do business or make small roads, build schools, colleges after 10 or 20 years when the land in Kashmir valley will have further shrunken? The archaic J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990) enacted during Maharaja Hari Singh’s period got automatically repealed after abrogation of Article 370. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in land acquisition rehabilitation and resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) was extended to J&K and is in operation from Oct 31st 2019, but its benefits are not given to people of J&K? The Government is instead planning to create a no construction zone in a half kilometre area which will affect the lives of thousands of people in future. This is practically not viable.
Govt wants to acquire highly fertile land for Srinagar Ring Road project for peanuts; and then asking the affected people and many other villagers from Pampore to Ganderbal via Budgam to make no construction in 500 meter area is like further punishing them. If the Govt is so worried about the Ring Road, let them pay enough compensation to the people so that they buy land in some other area? We live in a welfare state, how can the Govt in a welfare state be so cruel to its citizens ?
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow.He is Chairman JK RTI Movement & Anant Fellow for Climate Action.