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Governor N N Vohra was informed Saturday (Jul 21) that around 18 lakh Kanals of state land are under the encroachments throughout the state. In a high-level meeting, Financial Commissioner, Housing and Urban Development Department, informed Vohra that these encroachments are on the Government, Panchayat and Forest lands in the State in gross violation of the Revenue, Forest and Municipal laws. What he was not told perhaps is that the land-grabbers have not spared even the state’s water-bodies, including rivers, lakes and marshes, not to talk about the roads, streets and even sidewalks. Indeed these encroachments have been there for long, but for reasons best known to them concerned authorities have never really acted against the encroachers. Instead the unruly elements were always patronized by some or the other interest group including the political establishment, for they were seen as a vote-bank and support base – as the bands of foot-soldiers who could be mobilized by their mentors whenever they wanted to make a statement, political or otherwise. This culture steadily created a self-perpetuating cycle of land-grabbers who would encroach on some government land somewhere on one or the other pretext and then bargain for permanent rehabilitation in lieu of vacating that place.

When new Amirakadal bridge was commissioned some 35 years back, the old bridge that stood nearby was immediately encroached upon by some vendors who constructed wooden kiosks over it and started a flea market there. Today’s weekly  ‘Sunday Market’ in Srinagar is in fact a successor of that same flea market which was started on the old Amirakadal bridge. When government finally wanted to dismantle the old bridge, it was opposed by hundreds of vendors who were running their businesses over it. These people demanded that they be rehabilitated, and they were. They were told to construct wooden kiosks along what is today High Court complex’s eastern boundary wall (then called Gole Bagh) from Jehangir Chowk all the way to Saheed Ganj crossing. Subsequently when High Court  started functioning from that place, these people were rehabilitated at different places including at Batamaloo and Exhibition road where they constructed permanent shops, and then moved on to encroach other pavements elsewhere. Now these people knew how to milk the system!

People have seen how encroachments were regularized along the eastern boundary wall of Tyndale Biscoe School in Abiguzar, at Regal Lane, along The Bund, in Forest Lane and so many other places. So a full-fledged mafia has come into being which would lay hands on wherever they could and then bargain for compensation and rehabilitation in lieu of vacating their encroachments. The practice has been going on for decades and it continues even today with active support and patronage of both the concerned civic authorities as well as the politicians.

Even at present there are scores of places within twin cities’ Municipal limits where the unscrupulous elements have grabbed vast tracts of state land including the river-beds and banks and then involved the concerned civic bodies in never-ending legal wrangles so as to prolong their illegal possession of state land and to force government towards some settlement in the name and garb of their rehabilitation. Elsewhere in the state the situation is no different.

Now that the Governor has tasked the concerned agencies with the job of freeing the government lands from the encroachers’ clutches, let’s see how the authorities go about it.

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