Why deny benefits of central law to the affected farmers?

When Congress led UPA-II came up with Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013), it was neither extended to J&K nor did J&K legislature enact a similar progressive law to replace JK’s obsolete Land Acquisition Act of 1934. From 2013 onwards the ultimate sufferers have been people of J&K, especially those farmers whose land and property were  acquired for various developmental projects like highways, road widening, defence estates, construction of dams, power projects etc.

Affected people in towns, cities and villages, whose land, shops and residential houses came in the alignment of various developmental projects have been demanding fair compensation but successive Governments in J&K were adamant to replace the J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 for unknown reasons. The affected farmers, and the activists protested over this issue several times in past but nobody paid any attention. On the other hand J&K Government replaced several old and outdated laws except the land law.

The archaic J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 got automatically repealed after abrogation of Article 370, but the benefits of this law are yet to reach the affected people of J&K. Government is denying benefits of this law to the affected people whose land is falls in the alignment of Srinagar Ring Road project. This project is a classic example of denial of benefits of a progressive legislation to affected people. In many cases the awards for payment of compensation have not been prepared and due to efflux of time the notification issued under JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 stands lapsed. This has been authenticated by the Deputy Commissioner Budgam as well in his official communication with Divisional Commissioner Kashmir vide letter No: DCB/LAS/20/300-10 Dated: 18.05.2020, but nobody is ready to listen, and it seems we are living in a lawless place?

The Project

In May 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated two Ring Road projects in J&K aimed at de-congesting traffic in Jammu and Srinagar cities. In Jammu around 400 acres (3200 kanals) of land have been already acquired for a 58-km highway. The work on the project has been going on. Affected farmers have been denied fair compensation as the proceedings were undertaken under JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 plus the stamp rates in Jammu district were very low.

For Srinagar Ring Road 560 acres (4800 kanals) of agricultural land is going to be acquired for 62-km highway connecting Pulwama with Ganderbal via Budgam. Srinagar Ring Road will cross through Pampore, Wathoora Chadoora, Budgam, Dharmuna, Narbal and then pass via Srinagar’s western outskirts in Rambir Garh and enter Ganderbal via Srinagar Bandipora road. Out of these 4800 kanals district Budgam alone will lose more than 3700 kanals of fertile agricultural land. In addition to it there is lot of state land and kah charai which has already been acquired by the Government. Affected people, especially the farmers in Budgam and some other districts under the banner of Ring Road Land Owners Welfare Committee have been demanding fair compensation from 2017 on wards.

2017 notification has lapsed

The land value in district Budgam is very high but authorities are trying to acquire the same for a meagre compensation. After abrogation of article 370 we lost several state institutions and some very good laws, but Right to Fair compensation is the only law that could have been beneficial to us. But authorities don’t want to give the benefits of this law to affected farmers in J&K. In Jammu district land for Jammu Ring Road project has already been acquired for peanuts and recently an affected land owner Harbans Lal committed suicide at Bishnah. People are losing apple and plum orchards, paddy fields and vegetable farms in Budgam. In other districts authorities have almost completed the land acquisition proceedings as affected farmers were not much in number, but in Budgam district this got delayed and final awards of many villages have not been prepared and thus government could not take possession of the land. During the same time J&K’s Land Acquisition Act 1934 got repealed post article 370 abrogation and from October 31st 2019 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act 2013) got applicable in J&K , but authorities want to take possession of the land by invoking provisions of old law (JK Land Acquisition Act 1934). This seems completely ridiculous act.

Many affected families in Budgam have been paid part of the compensation by the district collector in past but this is an advance money which can be paid to affected persons as per JK Land Acquisition Act 1934 guidelines. Authorities call it a tentative award, but there is no mention of this word in any land acquisition law. Award means final award only, that was awaited but has got automatically lapsed even under the provisions of section 11-B of erstwhile J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 samvat 1990 which reads as:

Collector shall make award under section 11 within a period of 2 years from the date of the publication of the declaration”. In case of Budgam it is more than 3 years now since the land acquisition notification was published.

Keeping this into consideration, land acquisition proceedings in almost 20 villages have lapsed and Deputy Commissioner has sent a detailed list to the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir .   Section 24 sub section 1 & 2 of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act -RFCTLARR Act 2013 also has a similar provision which reads as :

“ Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, in any case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894,— (a) where no award under section 11 of the said Land Acquisition Act has been made, then, all provisions of this Act relating to the determination of compensation shall apply.

Pertinently the 1894 land acquisition act was applicable across India (except J&K)  prior to enactment of 2013 Right to Fair compensation law. In our case 1894 law can be equated with J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934.

Conclusion

The work for Srinagar Ring Road project was allotted to an infrastructure company namely M/S RAMKY Infra after necessary bidding process. The Letter of Award (LoA) was issued to them on March 5th 2018 by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) which is the intending agency. On December 7th 2019 M/S RAMKY Infra gave Termination of Contract (ToC) notice to NHAI as Government failed to acquire the land from the farmers especially in Budgam district. As mentioned above the Deputy Commissioner Budgam has clearly intimated the Government that notification issued in 2017 has lapsed in case of almost 20 villages as final awards could not be finalized even after 3 years which otherwise has to be completed within 2 years as per section 11-B of JK land acquisition act 1934 (now repealed). The Govt. instead of issuing fresh notification under Right to Fair compensation law, is adamant to conclude proceedings under the repealed law. This is completely unjust and a legal fraud which is unacceptable to people. The High Court of J&K recently has stayed the further land acquisition proceedings in case of Buchroo village in Budgam that had raised similar apprehensions. It is urged upon the government to follow the law in letter and spirit and issue a fresh notification for Srinagar Ring Road project.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement