Kisan leaders meet aggrieved Kashmiri farmers !

Interaction under the apple trees was a unique experience
Kisan leaders meet aggrieved Kashmiri farmers !
Pic: Author

For the last many years landowners and farmers affected by developmental projects in J&K have been struggling a lot to get justice. Whether it is in Jammu region or Kashmir valley the farmers aggrieved by infrastructural projects like Ring Road Jammu / Srinagar have been trying their best to impress upon the Govt to provide them fair compensation of their land and property. Neither the previous Governments nor the present dispensation has been able to address their grievances. When the UPA -II Govt enacted Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) also called Fair Compensation Act in 2013 the then J&K NC-Congress Govt in J&K headed by Omar Abdullah could have extended that law to J&K or at least enacted similar legislation. In fact, I tried my best to impress upon the state Govt to enact similar law, but nobody took my write-ups seriously in 2012 to 2013 when this bill was being discussed in the Parliament.

Then, I was hopeful that PDP-BJP Govt could pass this law in J&K as huge land was being acquired by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from 2016 onwards for Srinagar and Jammu Ring Road projects. I brought this matter into the notice of the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu and requested her to enact a new land acquisition act in J&K which would be at par with national law (RFCTLARR Act 2013). She agreed with me and immediately called Law Minister Abdul Haq Khan to the office chambers in Civil Secretariat Jammu . Mr Khan was not supportive of my suggestion and I could not again meet the CM; and after a year or so the PDP-BJP Govt collapsed.

Land Acquisition in Jammu

The land of farmers in the Jammu region was acquired for peanuts during construction of Jammu Ring Road few years back. One of the affected land owner who was an ex service man from Bishnah area of Jammu district namely Harbans Lal even committed suicide. I had written about it last year. Harbans Lal’s land and house were acquired for mere 12 lakhs which otherwise could have fetched him Rs 80 to 90 lakhs. But the stamp rate on the area was so low that estimates prepared under repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934(samvat 1990) proved to be fatal for the farming community of Bishnah, R S Pura, Preethipura, Kangrail, Ban Sultan and other villagers of Jammu. Same thing happened in Kashmir, the stamp rate of the villages was much less than the market value of land. In Wathora Budgam for instance stamp rate in 2017 was between Rs 65 lakhs to 90 lakhs per kanal. This was the time when the Govt issued notification under section 4 and then declaration under section 6 of the repealed JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990). In other villages also the situation was the same , the stamp rate was 2 to 3 times less than market rate and the Govt was making an assessment for stamp rate with 15 % solatium. The Collector Land Acquisition Budgam failed to even prepare an award within the stipulated time of 2 years from the day of declaration of section 6 notification. In almost 45 villages this notification lapsed as per section 11-B of the repealed JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990). The law says fresh notification has to be issued if the award is not prepared in 2 years. The Govt had to issue fresh notification under the new law which was extended to J&K post article 370 abrogation. This was like a blessing in disguise for farmers, but the Govt prepared an award after a lapse of more than 3 years which was completely illegal and was challenged before the court of law. There are at least 3 judgments pronounced in the last 1 year wherein J&K High Court division bench have directed Govt to issue fresh notifications under central law. These orders are not being respected and the Budgam land acquisition case is listed for final hearing in July.

Farmer leaders’ visit

Kashmiri farmers have never been part of any national level farmer movements. Except for a handful of left leaning farmer organisations, the farmers’ movement in Kashmir never flourished in the past nor did we have a strong farmers’ body here. For the last 7 to 8 years I have been part of the National Farmers Coordination Committee also called Rashtriya Kisan Samanvay Samiti (RKSS). This is a non-political farmers group not having affiliation with any political party, but the members in their individual capacity are members of different political parties. I attended their first meeting at Gandhi Ashram Wardha in 2014. The leaders of this national level group have been in touch with me since then and recently after hearing that many fruit trees were being uprooted and axed in Budgam by NHAI and local administration their delegation came to Srinagar to assess the ground situation. The aim of this visit was to meet the aggrieved farmers especially those affected by the Srinagar Ring Road project, 440 KV Samba Amargad transmission line project. This was a first ever face to face interaction between the aggrieved farmers of Kashmir with farmer leaders from other states. The nine member delegation are important office bearers of different farmers associations who came to express solidarity with the farmers of Kashmir whose land was being acquired by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for construction of the Srinagar Ring Road project.

From May 10th to 12th the farmers’ delegation along with aggrieved farmers from Budgam, Baramulla and Srinagar went to various sites around Srinagar Road project in Budgam like Sozeth, Mirgund, Wathoora, Ranbir Garh to see the damage caused to apple trees, plum trees. The delegation from seven states led by Vivekanand Mathane, Convener of RKSS expressed serious concern over the sufferings of farmers of Kashmir especially those affected by Srinagar Ring Road as the trees had been uprooted without even being paid compensation or having been paid very small amount which is ten times less than the market rate.

Sundara Vimal Nathan, Tamilnadu Cauvery Farmers’ Protection Association who travelled all the way from Erode to Jammu by train for 3 days and 3 nights seemed depressed after seeing huge apple trees having been uprooted.

“Hundreds of farmers have suffered huge losses in their current and future income. Farmers could have transplanted those uprooted crop trees if the government had issued a notice or alerted beforehand. It is specifically known that 80 percent of transplants of such plants are successful. Following the repeal of Article 370 of our constitution, the state of Jammu and Kashmir now has no democratically elected leaders. Because it is a state-wide rule, the union government is responsible for arbitrary activities of those that do not follow any of the laws’ procedures” Vimal Nathan said.

Statement by RKSS

The Rashtriya Kisan Samanvay Samiti (RKSS) after their Kashmir visit issued a joint statement endorsed by all the 9 farmer leaders. The statement reads as :

“Farmers are the most exploited segment of our country’s production sector. However, the farmers of Kashmir are suffering a double punishment as a result of the forcible land acquisition and not applying Fair Compensation Act for land acquisition during construction of Srinagar Ring Road. The J&K land acquisition act of 1934, as well as many other laws established by the J&K assembly, including those enacted by the former leader, Maharaja of J&K, are annulled by the abrogation of article 370. On the other hand, the same union government is unconcerned about ensuring even the right to compensation and land transparency. The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 (LARR Act) might have granted at least certain rights to the state’s citizens.Another significant problem that common people are facing is the installation of a 440 KV electrical transmission line without considering the dangers it poses to the lives of thousands of farmers’ families”

Conclusion

Whether the visit of the farmer leaders from 7 states to Kashmir will have any impact on the ground is not my concern. I am indebted to these people who came all the way from far off places to reach out to us. It was an amazing experience to discuss and deliberate upon forcible land acquisition, issues related to organic and natural farming that too in apple orchards and Karewa’s of Budgam. I am thankful to Vivekanand Mathane, Azadi Bachao Andolan, Maharashtra, Adv Joshy Jacob, Samajavadi Jan Parishad, Kerala, Rampal Jat, Kisan Panchayat, Rajasthan, Saraswati Kavula, Prakrutik Kheti Abhiyan, Telangana, Adv Jayant Varma, All India Agragami Kisan Sabha, Madhya Pradesh, Raghav Sharan Sharma author and member of All India Agragami Kisan Sabha, Uttar Pradesh Sundara Vimal Nathan and Natarajan of Cauvery Farmers’ Protection Association, Tamilnadu for coming to Kashmir.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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