By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar, Feb 27 (SocialNews.XYZ) The decision by the Jammu and Kashmir Lt. Governor G.C. Murmu-led UT administration to remove encroachments on government land in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region is likely to open a can of worms.
Thousands of acres of government land of various descriptions like grazing land, 'Nazool' land (state land in Srinagar city), state land in rural areas and forest land in Jammu region and Kashmir Valley have been brought under construction during the last 32 years when the focus of the administration was on fighting militancy.
There has been a virtual loot of state land under the so-called 'Roshni' scheme. The scheme came into force during the government of Farooq Abdullah and it was the brainchild of the then revenue minister, Abdur Rahim Rather.
The act envisaged to create funds for hydro power generation in the state by giving proprietary rights to occupants of state land.
"Without following any public auction process, prime lands were allotted to favourites of the ruling party or those who wielded influence on the government in power.
"The result was that the scheme did not collect more than Rs 79 crore against the target of Rs 25,000 crores while prime land, both commercial and housing, worth billions was given to the beneficiaries," a senior revenue officer said requesting anonymity.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court is now seized of the matter while the anti-corruption bureau is investigating the allotments under the Roshni scheme that is no longer in force.
Ironically, the UT administration is showing eagerness to remove encroachments on forest land, state land and those reserved for lakes, rivers and other water bodies while a construction boom continues in all the districts of Kashmir Valley on land exclusively reserved for agricultural purposes.
Under the law of the land, all agricultural land classified as 'Abi Aawal' (A-grade cultivable land based on fertility and irrigation facility) cannot be converted for any other purpose.
Thousands of acres of this prime agricultural land have been converted for other purposes as houses, shops and commercial complexes have come up on these lands.
"The law is clear on this. Nobody can convert these lands as these are exclusively reserved for agricultural purpose.
"Unfortunately due to the land mafia working in connivance with the officials of the revenue department, thousands of acres of such land are no longer under cultivation now," said a senior retired revenue official.
The result of this conversion has been that despite thousands of hectares marked for paddy cultivation, almost the entire requirement of foodgrains for Kashmir Valley comes from outside Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir has some of the loftiest forests in the world and during the last four decades these forests have shrunk alarmingly.
Huge forest areas in Srinagar, Ganderbal, Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, Shopian, Anantnag and Kulgam districts have fallen to the timber smugglers' axe.
Clashes between officials of the forest protection force and smugglers ferrying timber in trucks, load carriers and even horseback had become a common occurrence during the last 30 years.
The result has been that timber from foreign countries for construction purposes is now sold in Srinagar city.
The irony is that timber imported from Australia costs less in Srinagar city than does the local Cedrus and Pine timber.
"When former chief ministers and ministers built palatial houses on forest and state lands in Srinagar and Jammu how could governments headed by them stop encroachments?" said Fayaz Ahmed, who lives in the Kupwara border district.
The Lieutenant Governor-led administration appears to be deeply concerned about the problem and stands committed to have all encroachments and illegal constructions removed quickly.
Would Kashmir get back its biological lungs by way of forests and vast areas of green agricultural land and water bodies? Well, time alone will tell.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)