Since the onset of political turmoil here, the entire administration has as if been paralyzed and government machinery rendered lifeless. Taking full advantage of the general culture of unaccountability, a huge chunk of unscrupulous elements both within the government and outside of it, have been grabbing and selling the state assets, particularly government land, through a well-established network or mafia. Lakhs of kanals of state land have been occupied and sold, which resultantly also added to the sky-rocketing of real estate prices in the state, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years the land-mafia have spread their tentacles in the entire state. No wonder that state has the distinction of having witnessed an unprecedented increase in the real estate prices, even during the last three decades of political turmoil and violence here, which is in quite contradiction to the ‘established fact’ that real estate prices witness steep downfall in the conflict region. According to a research on Mid-East (West Asia), 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 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 or have even forayed into the Fourth Estate to shield themselves while gulping and guzzling public property. It is time for the government to wage a war against those who have preyed upon the state land. Thousands of kanals of state land including the agricultural tracts, the ‘kahcharais’ (local grazing grounds in the countryside) and particularly the forest land as also the wetlands have been illegally occupied. While some influential people have managed to affect mutation of the revenue records to “legally” transfer this property to themselves and their kin, others are just holding on to these properties by sheer misuse of law of the land or through other means.
The land-grabbers, supported by people at the helm until now, have become powerful and dangerous. One of the former chief ministers is on record to have confessed that the land mafia and other occupants have grabbed 13 lakh kanals of state land costing billions of rupees and that for the state government it is a gigantic task to retrieve it back. Needless to say that he himself enacted what is known as Roshni Act, and which has only aggravated the situation further by legalizing the illegal land grab. It is also no secret that the elements responsible for this loot and scoot have established strong networks and have managed to intrude into political, social, commercial and media circles in order to hide their original identities, which can make the task even tougher for the government. However, nothing should stop the government from taking action against anybody, howsoever powerful he/she may be.
Once the job is done, the government, besides identifying such elements and retrieving the state property should come up with a broad-based policy in order to check such happenings in future. The challenge ahead is certainly very daunting; however, given a political will to weed out the unscrupulous, it doesn’t take much to go against the unruly. And the political dividends of such an initiative at the popular level are certainly worth the only risk it has -- of annoying a powerful political constituency of land-grabbers who besides in politics are also active in other spheres of public activity in the state. To begin with, should we expect some action against those who have grabbed mammoth portion of Brari Nambal, Khushalsar, Anchar and other marshes and wetlands right in the heart of the city? In fact every night hundreds of truckloads of soil and earth can be seen moving towards the interiors of Anchar and Khushalsar where vast tracts of water are being filled in. Now if those manning the LAWDA, or the Srinagar Municipality or for that matter the local police stations claim that they are not aware of it, they will simply be lying.