Tame them now
Since the massive floods of September 2014, Kashmir Valley has been facing constant threat of a similar deluge. Each time it rains here for a few days, the rivers and streams throughout the Valley swell up like never before. And there certainly are reasons for it –the scientific ones – but the problem here is that the state’s political and administrative set-up has not been able to get its act together to tackle the possible threats, scientifically. Over the past couple of years people were treated to massive figures both about the amounts of sand and silt taken out from the River Jhelum and its tributaries and distributaries, and the massive costs incurred on the de-silting exercise. But past week’s flood situation once laid bare and mocked at all those official claims and boasts.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 floods, the J&K High Court had directed the government to free Kashmir’s water-bodies including Jhelum from Khannabal to Khadanyar and beyond of all illegal encroachments. Obviously the government did not act as was desired, and now when Kashmir faced another flood-like situation, it must have driven home the ugly untruths about governmental claims about its flood management measures.
It remains a fact that in J&K, encroachments and land-grab have actually been patronized and protected by the political establishment for petty political gains, and the practice has not stopped even after the 2014 floods. In fact during recent years, the encroachers and land-grabbers had a field day when they trained their greed on every patch of government land and water-body they could put hands on. While fresh portions of marshy land were filled in around the Brari Nambal, Khushhalsar, Gilsar, Anchar and elsewhere with active patronage and protection from political class, even the roads and streets were not spared. Tenements and wooden kiosks have changed into concrete structures at several prominent places in the city and nobody raised a brow. Obviously this would not have been possible without the active support of the concerned agencies. This is a nexus that needs to be looked into, exposed and broken with the guilty facing punitive action.
In Kashmir and in Jammu as well, we have seen that the unscrupulous are always waiting in wings for opportunities to amass personal fortunes by grabbing state lands and other resources in an overly turbulent political situation. There is indeed a well-established network or mafia that has been on prowl here. Lakhs of kanals of state land have been occupied and sold off, which have resultantly also added to the sky-rocketing of real estate prices in the state. Over the years the land-mafia has spread their tentacles in the entire state. No wonder then that Valley has the distinction of having witnessed an unprecedented increase in the real estate prices even during the past few decades of political turmoil and related violence here, which is in quite contradiction to the ‘established fact’ that real estate prices like so many other businesses witness steep downfall during conflicts. According to a research on Mid-East, house prices have continuously fallen for the simple reason that buyers do not buy for the fear of violence. But in Jammu and Kashmir, the situation has practically been other way round.
There is a dire need to tame the land-mafia by retrieving the public properties from their clutches. The conduct of these rogue elements is doubtlessly more serious than ordinary and petty criminals. These rogue elements have been posing themselves as white-collared persons and have found safe havens in political parties to shield themselves while gulping and guzzling public property, including vast portions of Kashmir’s water bodies. Anchar, Khushhalsar, Guilsar, Braribambal, Wullar, Hokerar and countless other places are continuously being encroached and nobody seems to be bothered. Now that the State has come under the Governor’s rule, and as of now there is no political class to actively protect and patronize the loot, it is expected that the administration would direct some attention towards these encroachments and free these water-bodies from the clutches of the greedy. The administrative and political dividends of such an initiative at the popular level are certainly worth the only risk it has — of annoying a powerful constituency of land-grabbers who are indeed very active in politics too.