They trespassed into the land, started construction

RFCTLARR Act bypassed, land owner asked to execute a sale deed?
They trespassed into the land, started construction
Pic: Author

Recently Prime Minister Modi said that J&K’s youth won’t face hardships their parents and grandparents suffered for want of opportunities and infrastructure. PM, during his visit to Palli village in Samba district on the eve of National Panchayat day i.e April 26th said:

“Believe my words, the youth of the valley mark my words that you will not face the difficulties faced by your parents and grandparents. This I will accomplish and I have come to assure you that.”

Irfan Hashim, a young PhD scholar from New Theed Harwan in district Srinagar, isn’t impressed by the PM’s assurance as his ancestral property has been forcibly acquired by Power Development Department recently. Irfan’s father Bashir Ahmad Bhat, a village shopkeeper, owns a piece of land near New Theed bus stand which has a great commercial value. This piece of land is coming under the alignment of a transmission line for which a grid station was constructed in New Theed a few years back.

Case detail

On January 20th 2022 Irfan’s father Bashir Ahmad Bhat got an official letter from Collector Land Acquisition Power Development Department (PDD) Srinagar vide communication No: LAPDD/MHPS/264-65. He is directed to execute a sale deed for his piece of land which comes under the alignment of a power transmission line. Out of his 1 kanal 13 marlas ancestral land 12 marlas ( plus 3000 square feet ) are required by the Government for construction of a transmission tower. With the construction of a huge tower with 4 legs the entire 1 kanal and 13 marlas of land has turned useless and its commercial value has declined considerably.

The letter of Collector land acquisition addressed to Mr Bhat reads:

“Apropos to the aforementioned subject, kindly inform the land owner of tower number 45 D in estate Haripora Harwan under survey No: 1150 Min to attend the office of Executive Engineer TLMD 7 Bemina to execute the sale deed as per the latest stamp rates / prevailing rates for quantum of land verified / authenticated by the concerned division “

Bashir Ahmad Bhat’s son Irfan was shocked to see this letter. He asked the officials in the collector office to follow the due process of law by applying the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR-2013) which has been extended to Jammu & Kashmir post article 370 abrogation. This law is operational in UT of J&K with effect from October 31st 2019. The officials of the collectorate and power department seemed adamant as they wanted to take possession of the land without applying RFCTLARR Act 2013. This is not the first time they did this, but in the recent past they constructed a few power transmission towers in a private land around Ahal village of Hazratbal area. In that case also RFCTLARR Act 2013 was not applied. When this author intervened, along with the owner, and met the collector land acquisition PDD last year, the officer told me he had no orders to invoke the central law. He was totally ignorant about the RFCTLARR Act 2013. His answer was ridiculous as RFCTLARR Act 2013 has been made applicable in J&K with immediate effect from Oct 31st 2019 as per the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 order 1.

From pillar to post

It is still not clear whether Collector Land Acquisition PDD issued any notification under RFCTLARR Act 2013 or not ? The copy of the preliminary notification under section 11 was not served to land owner Bashir Ahmad Bhat. His son Irfan has been moving from pillar to post for the last 4 months, but he isn’t getting justice. On April 16th 2022 the Tehsildar North District Srinagar along with his staff, police officials, and the staff of the Executive Engineer TMLD division 7 trespassed into the land of Bashir Ahmad Bhat near New Theed bus stand. These officers had hired heavy duty cranes, JCBs, that uprooted several apple and cherry trees, and destroyed the vegetable crop. Ironically the owner of the land was not given any prior notice. The fruit trees were uprooted mercilessly without even asking the horticulture department to make an assessment or asking the owner to transplant the same. This was again a clear violation section 12 of RFCTLARR Act 2013 which reads :

The officer so authorised under section 12 shall at the time of entry under section 12 pay or tender payment for any damage caused, and, in case of dispute as to the sufficiency of the amount so paid or tendered, he shall at once refer the dispute to the decision of the Collector or other chief revenue officer of the district, and such decision shall be final

Hearing of objections & declaration

Bashir Ahmad Bhat was not given an opportunity to be heard as per section 15 of the act. The section 15 of RFCTLARR Act says that aggrieved parties should be heard within 60 days from the date of publication of section 11 notification. Since Bashir Ahmad was not provided a copy of section 11 notification, and thus hearing him after 60 days was practically impossible.

Section 19 of RFCTLARR Act says that when the appropriate Government is satisfied, after considering the report, if any, made under sub-section (2) of section 15, that any particular land is needed for a public purpose, a declaration has to be made to that effect. After this, again a notice has to be issued to aggrieved parties and finally an award is to be prepared under section 25 and then only the intending agency / collector will take possession of land. But in the case of Bashir Ahmad’s land, all these proceedings were not at all followed and he was instead directed to execute a sale deed which is totally illegal and against the law.

After the power department officials, along with hydraulic cranes and JCBs, trespassed into Mr Bhat’s land at New Theed bus stand, huge pits were dug by the cranes and construction material was dumped at the site. The work is going on at full pace and nobody is ready to listen to the aggrieved.

Conclusion

Irfan wants justice. He filed a complaint before District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) Srinagar. He was heard some days back. The respondent officer from PDD was also present. He was reprimanded, but Irfan was advised to seek judicial intervention by moving a petition before the competent court. Irfan was not expecting such a response from this institution. He says that his family isn’t against construction of electric towers, but they want fair compensation as per the existing law.

“ My father or myself was not against construction of the transmission tower, in fact state land was available nearby which is under encroachment of people. Ideally that should have been used but the power department didn’t give a nod to that , saying that state land was not feasible for construction of the electric transmission tower. We wanted fair compensation as our land is located in a commercial area where land rates are not less than Rs 1.50 crores per kanal. We were being asked to accept around Rs 40 to 45 lakhs per kanal. If the Right to Fair Compensation Act is applicable in J&K post article 370 abrogation , why shall we be denied its benefits ? On one hand PM Modi assures that the youth of J&K won’t face any difficulties that our parents or grandparents faced, why are the Govt officers doing the opposite on ground. I appeal PM , Home Minister and Lt Governor to give me and my family justice” said Irfan Hashim while speaking to this author.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman J&K 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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