Land grab

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Everything is up for grabs in Kashmir. This is the unfortunate reality here. Irrespective of what government might say to boast about its so-called transparency, fact of the matter remains that there is complete lack of accountability in the very systems of governance here. And mind it, this corruption is patronized and promoted by the government and its agencies, both deliberately and by default.

Now take the instance of portions of marshy Kuhushal Sar along the Dr. Ali Jan Road being transformed into solid land in broad daylight. So far, none of the civic agencies of Srinagar, be it Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), or Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) or for that matter even the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) or have done anything to stop this open loot. Even the local police seems complicit in this land grab as truckloads of earth are dumped in the waterbody 24X7 without any fail.

Previously also there have been similar instances wherein with the active help and connivance of some government agencies and officials, valued state properties have been bartered away to the unscrupulous. When late G M Shah toppled Farooq Abdullah’s government in early eighties, within no time wooden shacks and kiosks were erected along the walls of Lal Ded Hospital towards the Goni Khun side. And very cleverly, encroachers erected banners and hoardings there announcing the name of the ‘new encroachment’ as ‘Shah Market’. This was it; nobody dared to initiate any action against the encroachers. Steadily the temporary wooden kiosks were replaced with concrete shops and today it is one of the thriving marketplaces in Srinagar.

On Residency road, in Lal Chowk, at Court road, in Batmaloo, at Dalgate, Zaina Kadal, Bohri Kadal – wherever there was a patch of fallow land or even if the existing road or lane was wide enough to allow some space for a cart or a kiosk, encroachers have always been quick to grab it. And in almost all these cases the encroachers have been (and are) politically very well connected or at least have enough nuisance value that the authorities feel it prudent to fall in line. Subsequently encroachments are regularized to give them privilege of being legal although they have only defiled and defaced the city and the towns besides of course undermining the law of the land and encouraging a culture of highhandedness for others to emulate and follow.

If past experiences about such land grabs here are taken as indicator, there is little likelihood that SDA will do much in retrieving the plot. Few years back a huge plot valued well over Rs 500 crores at Bagh-e-Nund Singh opposite to Tattoo Ground was grabbed by a group of people who immediately erected wooden shacks there in order to consolidate their possession. The property owned by Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has since been encroached and the civic body has not been able to get it back. In fact a simple case of land grab which could have been resolved immediately by the enforcement wing of SMC by demolishing wooden shacks and retrieving its possession with the help of police has deliberately been consigned to litigations in courts which have dragged on for years. The encroachers in this case as well are not only well connected politically but also have a great nuisance value. This is how they have been able to maintain the status quo on a prime government property, thus causing huge financial losses to the civic body.

For long this loot and scoot of the prime government lands has been going on here. It is time for the government to publicly acknowledge its helplessness before the land mafia and stop making hollow noises. Otherwise, it will have to, and it must act against the unscrupulous and tell them in no uncertain terms that this highhandedness is no longer going to be acceptable. What better way to make this point than by freeing all such properties from the illegal possession of the land-grabbers. Mr. Governor, there are dozens of places along the Dr. Ali Jan Road alone which have been and still are being encroached upon with active connivance and complicity of various government agencies. Elsewhere also the situation is no different. All these places are crying for help. Please invest some attention towards these places too.

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