Nooruddin Rather 66, a resident of Buchroo village in central Kashmir’s district Budgam was not even born when his family land measuring 13 kanals (1.62 acre) located near Old Airport area (Karewa Damodar) was taken into possession by the Indian Army way back in 1952. In addition to Noorudin’s family land, a huge chunk of land (500 acres approximately) belonging to hundreds of people from half a dozen villages was also taken into possession by the Army. Between 1975 to 1990 around 300 acres of land belonging to people from villages of Humhama, Gudsathoo and Lalgam in district Budgam was acquired by Airforce and Border Security Force (BSF) as well. The affected landowners were compensated for the same, but the villagers whose land is under possession of the Army are yet to be compensated. The process of land acquisition is not getting finalised for the last several decades even as the Union Cabinet has given the nod for this. A recent meeting between representatives of land owners of Karewa Damodar Old Airport, some social activists including this author with GOC 15 Corps Lt Gen ADS Aujla has generated optimism among 500 affected families. The officer assured that the matter would be addressed as he took up the matter with the Defence Estates Department.
As per the rate fixed by Deputy Commissioner / District Collector Budgam Nooruddin was supposed to receive a payment of Rs 2.60 Crores as compensation money, but he was paid only Rs 73.68 Lakhs in 2014. The Government officials told him within some time he would get the rest of the payment. It has now been more than 8 years, Noorudin has not received the remaining amount of Rs 18,640,000. Nooruddin isn’t the only farmer who is waiting for the compensation amount, but there are almost 500 such families.
The Srinagar International Airport in Karewa Damodar area is located in the territorial jurisdiction of Budgam district. In fact Budgam itself used to be a Tehsil of Srinagar district until 1978 when it was created as a separate district. The Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh had for the first time set up Airfield at Karewa Damodar around 1942. Therefore this place has a great historical importance as well. A big contingent of Army was guarding the Srinagar airport post 1947, and around 1952 Army took 484 acres of land at Karewa Damodar into their possession and from 1959 they used to pay annual rent to people through local Revenue Department officials.
As the local villagers lost control over the chunk of land under Army’s control, the then Jammu & Kashmir Govt headed by Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad took up the matter with Govt of India. From 1959 onwards the Army started paying the annual rent to the aggrieved farmers for around 3879 kanals of land (484 acres). Initially the rent was fixed @ Rs 3 per kanal per annum ( 1 acre = 8 kanals), then it was increased to Rs 5 and the same was enhanced to Rs 1500 per kanal around 2005. From 2013 the payment of rent was stopped as the Govt of India decided to acquire the land. Around 2014 some part of the compensation (20 to 25 % ) was paid to landowners, but they have been waiting for the final compensation from the Govt of India since then. In fact after article 370 abrogation aggrieved land owners had hoped that Govt will pay them compensation as per the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act 2013) wherein affected landowners are entitled to get 3 to 4 times more compensation of land, but unfortunately the affected people were not even paid Rs 20 per kanal which is one fourth ¼ of the market rate in the area?
DED places indent
The farmers got a sigh of relief when the Defence Estates Department (DED) under Ministry of Defence Govt of India placed an indent before the Deputy Commissioner Budgam through Defence Estates Officer (DEO) Kashmir circle, Srinagar, under the official communication No: JKS/398/ACQ/67 Dated: 22.03.2011 for acquiring land measuring 3879 kanals (484 acres) at Karewa Damodar. The indent was placed by DEO after getting sanction from the Ministry of Defence Govt of India under office letter No: 11011/2/2010/D(Lands) dated 4.03.2011.
After completion of land acquisition formalities under RAIP Act 1968, the Deputy Commissioner office Budgam submitted the case to Home Department of J&K Government on 4.06.2013 through Divisional Commissioner Kashmir for publication of form J notification. Under SRO No: 478 dated 22.11.2013 the Form J notification was issued for land acquisition. The form J notification under the J&K RAIP Rules 1968 is the final notice to acquire land as Govt before this notice issues several other notices to land owners seeking their consent etc to acquire the land.
The DC Budgam under his official communication No: DCB/Def (Coll) /112/014/185 Dated: 9.06.2014 by invoking section 8 of J&K RAIP Act 1968 fixed / determined the compensation rate @ Rs 18 lakhs per kanal for unirrigated land and Rs 20 / Kanal for irrigated land. The Defence Estates Officer (DEO) didn’t agree to the proposed rates. The DEO Kashmir zone Srinagar through his official communication No: JKS/398/ACQ/8 Dated: 04.06.2015 stated that unirrigated land will be paid Rs 6 lakhs per kanal and irrigated / orchard land Rs 7 lakhs. In response to it the Deputy Commissioner / District Collector Budgam through his official communication No: DCB/Coll (Def) 120/015/27-31 Dated: 11.07.2015 told Defence Estates Officer (DEO) that compensation rates proposed by him didn’t match with the market rates. The official letter a copy of which is with The Probe reads:
“The aforementioned rates for compensation of the subject land as communicated by DEO Srinagar do not match with the market rate being adopted in the vicinity of the proposed land and hence not accepted”
Deputy Commissioner Budgam through his communication dated 11.7.2015 provided a list of villages with the market rate of the land in these locations. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) Budgam emphasisd that the average rate in these villages was between 18 to 25 lakhs per kanal. In addition to it a list of seven villages was also provided where the Govt had acquired land for various public purposes between 2008 to 2011. These villages / habitations included Ompora, Rangreth, Wathoora, Humhama, Gudsathoo, Gogo are located just 1 to 2 kms from the area where land is to be acquired by Defence Estates Department (DED). The compensation provided in these areas ranged between 10 to 15 lakhs per kanal said the Deputy Commissioner Budgam in his official communication and he reiterated that Rs 18 to 20 lakhs per kanal rate was the final rate that was unanimously recommended by District Administration in consultation with Revenue officials.
In fact the affected villagers wanted more than this as the market value of land just outside the Karewa Damodar boundary wall in 2015 was much more than that. The Deputy Commissioner Budgam asked the Defence Estates Officer (DEO) Kashmir zone through his official communication dated 11.07.2015 to make a payment of Rs 690 Crores, so that the same would be disbursed among the affected farmers and land owners. It is now more than 7 years and the payment is yet to be disbursed.
Land had higher value
The DC Budgam under his official response No: DCB/ Coll (Def) /017/1348-49 Dated : 15.09.2017 told Defence Estates Officer Kashmir circle Srinagar that Rs 11.20 lakhs or 12.20 lakhs per kanal rate was unjustified as Karewa Damodar land has a market value of Rs 50 to 60 lakhs per kanal.
The Deputy Commissioner Budgam in his written communication made it clear that market value of land was much higher (Rs 50 to 60 lakhs per kanal). He further said “had the Airfield not been developed on Karewa Damodar it would have been one of the posh residential colonies in view of being located in the close vicinity of Srinagar city ."
“During 2014 when a minimum rate of Rs 18 to 20 lakhs per kanal was awarded by Collector, many grounds were taken into account including those which stands referred to in your subject letter. The case was accordingly referred to the Committee of Collectors and Assistant Collectors of District Budgam. Under the said committee, all points, observations and pros and cons related to the matter came to be discussed and deliberated at length and the Committee unanimously agreed that the grounds referred in the above mentioned letter are not maintainable because the value of said land per kanal is reportedly Rs 50 to 60 lakhs per kanal at present and even on the dates of its acquisition, rates of the land were very high”
After another communication from Deputy Commissioner Budgam dated 15.09.2017 and subsequent back channel talks between J&K Govt and Ministry of Defence, Govt of India agreed to pay the compensation @ Rs 18 and 20 lakhs respectively for land acquisition of around 484 acres of land at Karewa Damodar.
As the amount of compensation was very high i.e., Rs 690 Crores, the matter was referred by the DG Defence Estates (DGDE) to Ministry of Defence (MoD) and then to Union Cabinet that cleared the same early this year, but payments were not being made to the aggrieved land owners. To bring the matter into the notice of Army’s top brass the representatives of land owners of Karewa Damodar, some social activists, and this author had a detailed meeting with GOC 15 Corps Lt Gen ADS Aujla in Srinagar recently. The officer listened to the aggrieved persons very keenly. He had in fact fully studied the case in advance. He gave assurance to us that the matter would be addressed soon.
Dr Raja Muzaff ar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement