Nine months after Prime Minister's Office (PMO) gave clearance to the state government's proposal for vacation of High Ground in Anantnag town by Army, there is no forward movement on the issue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in June last year cleared JK government's proposal for vacating 454 Kanals of land in Army's possession for the expansion of Kashmir University's South campus in Anantnag.
Earlier, in a meeting chaired by Governor N N Vohra on March 18 last year in Jammu, the Army had agreed to vacate 456.60 Kanals out of the total 2005.24 Kanals, held by it since early 1990s, by March 31.
Then General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Northern Command, Lt Gen DS Hooda, had informed the Governor about the decision.
Prior to that, former Chief Minister Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed—while chairing Civil-Military Liaison (CML) Conference at SKICC Srinagar in September 2015 had asked the Army to vacate the land at Fatehgarh area of High Ground required for expansion of Kashmir University's South Campus and for developing a new housing colony to de-congest the town. He had then set three month deadline for the same.
Soon after clearance from PMO last year the district administration set into motion the process.
Top officials of the army, divisional, district administration, following the directions of the Chief Minister, had visited the spot and demarcated the 456. 60 Kanals of land in Fategarh area – located adjacent to South Campus – the army was supposed to vacate.
The Defense Estates officials visited the spot with men and machinery and carried final measurement and mapping of the land using Electronic Total Station (ETS) machine.
However, nine months have passed since the demarcation was carried out, and according to officials army is now refusing to vacate the said portion of land and instead insisting on handing over the proprietary land located outside the campus.
Sources in the revenue department said army's refusal to vacate the land has put to halt the process of the acquisition of the land.
"After the whole demarcation process was completed, and the land was set to be handed over to the district administration – the army refused to vacate the said portion of land. They are asking us to acquire the land on the back side of the university campus, which will not serve any purpose," said a revenue official.
He said the land the army is insisting on handing over is entirely proprietary one and matter pertaining to it is subjudice.
"It will cost us about Rs 300 crore to acquire the proprietary land. How can we manage such a huge amount? Further its acquisition will consume years together as the matter is pending in the court. We are asking the army to vacate the land belonging to the estates department, state land and housing land which is adjacent to the university campus but they are refusing to do so," an official said.
He said the army is citing security reasons viz strategic location of certain portion of land alignment issues of the land as the reason.
"The land in Fatehgrah area is mostly housing, estate department property and proprietary land. The State also owns a few Kanals out of it. However, the army is only ready to hand over 334.4 Kanals of proprietary land from it and rest from nearby Khareiman Donipawa area – which is entirely proprietary," an official added.
The revenue records available with Greater Kashmir suggest that 921.19 Kanals at Fatehgarh, 945.19 Kanals at Kheriman Donipawa and 139.03 Kanals at Qasba Baghat on the High Ground—total of 2005. 24 Kanals—is with Army's Rashtriya Rifles (RR) since 1992. The land in possession is property of Housing department, Shamilat, Khalisa Sarkar (State land) and proprietary land.
In Fatehgarh area of High Ground, Army is only paying rent for 467.14 Kanals of land acquired by it in Phase-I, however, in the rest 454.05 Kanals, acquired by it in the Phase-II, no rent is being paid and it is this portion which was to be vacated.
Similarly, no rent is being paid for the land under possession in Kheriman Donipwa (945.02 Kanals) while it is being paid for Qasba Baghat land (139.03 Kanals). The land under possession of Army in these two areas is mostly proprietary orchards.
Divisional Kashmir Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan, however told Greater Kashmir that the process of acquiring the land from army is on. "The land will soon be handed over to district administration," Khan assured.
Army's Srinagar based Defense Spokesman, Col Manish, told this reporter to mail the queries for detailed information about the issue.
"What I know about the issue is that the land was to be vacated subjected that army was provided an alternative. However, the land issues are always bit technical and hence I have to check the exact details," he said while asking the reporter to mail the queries.
This reporter has already mailed the queries and the reply is awaited.
Orchard owners seek vacation of proprietary land and compensation:
Orchard owners whose land in the Karevas of High Ground is with army for last three decades have reiterated their demand for vacation of their landed property, besides seeking compensation.
They say that they have neither been compensated nor given any rent till date.
"We have suffered massive losses due to non-utilization of this land," said the orchard owners.
The affected land owners said that even as the district administration has recommended their case for compensation/rent to the Defense Estate Officer Kashmir way back in 2011, "but so far nothing has been done in this regard by the latter. Till date we have not received even a single penny."
"We even approached state government and Defense Ministry but to no avail," they said.
The affected land owners said the orchards in the past would grow almonds, peach, apple and walnut thus giving them good returns. "But when army took over the land, they chopped off most of the trees," an affected orchard owner alleged.