By AUQIB JAVEED
Srinagar: On 4 February 2023, the Jammu and Kashmir administration seized a four-storey commercial building owned by Shuaib Wani in the Rampora, Chattabal area of Srinagar city, the summer capital of J&K, claiming the shopping complex was built on State-owned land.
Wani, 38, was at the high court in Srinagar when he received a call saying the tehsildar (revenue officer) of tehsil Sheltang, Srinagar, was seizing the building. Wani rushed there to find his complex sealed.
The land on which the complex stood had been allotted in 2004 to Adnan Manzoor Ahangar, Wani’s maternal cousin, by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), through an open auction. In 2008, Ahangar signed a partnership deed with Wani’s father, Zahoor Ahmad Wani. Both partners had disposed of other assets to construct the complex in 2019.
Three days after Wani’s building was seized, 60 km south of Srinagar, at 9.30 am on 6 February, Junaid Ahmad Bhat, 26, and his elder sister had just finished breakfast when a giant yellow backhoe loader made its way to their house in Arampora, in Dooru village of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
“My heart started beating fast when I saw the bulldozer,” said Bhat, who owns a pathway tile factory in Anantnag.
As he stepped out, a team of J&K revenue officials led by the tehsildar of Dooru told Bhat they were going to demolish his outhouse, to make way for construction of a road through the area. Accompanying the team was a contingent of the J&K police and officials of the district administration.
Bhat’s parents had left earlier for New Delhi, for a scheduled health check-up, and the young siblings did not consider resisting. The outhouse was demolished and the officials left, having not even served a notice, according to Bhat, a claim that authorities deny.
The Wanis and the Bhats were some of the targets of a new eviction drive launched by the J&K government on 11 January, the biggest such drive since 5 August 2019, when the former state was reduced to a union territory and governed directly from New Delhi.
On 9 January 2023 , the J&K administration ordered the removal of all encroachments on land owned by the union territory and kahcharai (grazing) land by 31 January. With authorities failing to meet the deadline, the drive continued until it was abruptly suspended on 11 February.
Swathes Of Land Retrieved, Structures Seized
In many plots occupied by both rich and poor, different categories of land were retrieved by the State. These included government land encroached in towns and cities, traditional pastures, land leased to hotels, and obvious encroachers.
J&K’s tide of evictions and threats of displacement after the removal of Article 370—the Constitutional provision that allowed the merger of the former kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir to India—has fuelled belief (here, here, and here) that the union government, which controls the union territory, is amalgamating land in order to settle outsiders, allegedly with a view to changing J&K’s demographics.
The eviction drives violated Supreme Court judgements in 1985 and 1990, legal experts said. The Supreme Court ruled that a government must follow due process of law during evictions and demolitions and governments must consider the “right to life”.
In June 2022, the SC said that demolitions can only be carried out in “accordance with the law” and the government must follow procedures while demolishing the structures.
On 1 September 2022, the Delhi High Court also said that no property can be demolished without giving the owner an opportunity to be heard…