Sensitise collectors to LARR Act 2013

Depute them to other states for training in a phased manner
Representational Image
Representational Image File/ GK

On June 24 this year the Jammu & Kashmir Government notified draft rules under the Central Land Acquisition Act also called LARR Act 2013. The Government sought objections and suggestions, if any, from the people of the Union Territory within a fortnight from the date of publication in the official Gazette.

In spite of writing and researching land laws for the last 10 years now, even I didn’t go through these draft rules. My friends and colleagues called me and asked me whether I had sent suggestions to the Govt on draft rules. I told them, no.

The reason is quite obvious. For the last 3 years the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act 2013 ) is applicable to J&K but has any citizen been benefited by this law? No, not at all.

I am not making a hypothetical statement but this is very much true. I don’t even blame the Govt of India for this as they have nothing to do with it. The fault lies within our own system.

The land acquisition collectors have no clarity about the law, nor have they been trained how to operationalise LARR Act 2013 on ground. This has led to chaos and confusion & its victims are the poor farmers whose land is being acquired forcibly on ground.

The LARR Act 2013 rules are not out yet. The state and UT Govts have been given the powers to make rules but the amount of compensation can’t be less than what is mentioned in the law ( 4 times more in rural areas and double the market value of land and property in urban areas).

Our land holding is also very less in J&K so we deserve more compensation than affected people in UP, MP or Andhra Pradesh. Hope the Govt of J&K keeps these things in consideration before coming up with the final set of LARR Act 2013 rules.

Ganderbal, A Case Study

High Court of Jammu & Kashmir pronounced a landmark judgement on forcible land acquisition. The division bench of the High Court prevented the district administration Ganderbal from acquiring land for widening and upgradation of Pandach Beehama-Ganderbal road.

Around 4 years back, the executing agency PWD (R&B) had invited tenders (NIT) for this road project when the land was yet to be acquired through a proper process under the erstwhile J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934. After the invitation of tender, the collector land acquisition Ganderbal issued notification under the section 4 and no further notifications were issued. Even the declaration under section 6 was also not issued.

The J&K High Court division bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar in an order said that as no declaration has been made under section 6 of J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 (now repealed) the notification issued under section 4 is simply a proposal to acquire the land and not a declaration to acquire the land.

The Court disposed off the petition titled Abdul Rahim Bhat v/s State and directed the Govt to proceed in accordance with the existing land acquisition law if they were in need of the land for road widening project.

The High Court order reads:

“The writ petition stands disposed of with a liberty to the respondents to proceed in accordance with law, if necessary, to acquire the land leaving it open for the petitioners to challenge the acquisition proceedings as and when the final notification to acquire the land is issued by the respondents. It is made clear that as the land has not been finally acquired, the ownership/ title of the land has not passed to the respondents and the petitioners are free to use it in the manner they so desire. The writ petition is, accordingly, disposed of.”

This means that under the old law also collectors were not following the due process of law. A piece of land for which Rs 50 lakhs per kanal had to be paid by Govt as compensation in 2018, for the same land now Govt has to pay minimum Rs 2 crore under central law. Who is to be blamed? Obviously the collector who didn’t follow the due process of law in 2017 or 2018.

Land Acquisition for Transmission Line

This case is not exclusive to Ganderbal, but is also true of a similar ordeal in the Chatterhama area of Srinagar outskirts where, a few years back, Power Department was laying concrete foundation for erecting electricity transmission towers for Alesteng – Mir Bazar transmission line. The land owners were not informed at all. When they raised their voice, the senior officers of the power department agreed to pay them compensation. When the case was referred to collector land acquisition Power Department Srinagar recently, the officer was reluctant to issue a notification under central law (LARR Act 2013). He didn’t want to bell the cat. This is what I could make out after having personally met him in this case last year. He was asking the affected landowners to take compensation as per the provisions of old law (JK Land Acquisition Act 1934) which has been repealed soon after abrogation of article 370.

I was shocked to hear him say this. Recently the said Collector said that he is now applying the central law (LARR Act 2013) , but when I did some investigation in one land acquisition case in Theed Harwan area of Srinagar , the Collector has directly issued preliminary notification under section11 of LARR Act 2013 and copy of the same was not provided to the aggrieved person Bashir Ahmad Bhat whose 11 marlas of commercial land is being acquired by Power Department for construction of a transmission line tower.

The land was forcibly acquired early this year but work has stopped since the last couple of months. Preliminary survey under section 12 was not done, damages were not paid under section 12, hearing of objections under section 15 was not done and above all rehabilitation and resettlement plan was not prepared under section 16 of LARR Act 2013. I don’t blame the Collector as they are working under tremendous pressure. The Govt should have organised training programmes for them before they were assigned the task to implement LARR Act 2013?

Srinagar Ring Road

As discussed in my previous articles on this subject, similar legal fraud is being committed to forcibly acquire more than 4800 kanals of agricultural land in almost 4 dozen villages of Budgam for the construction of Srinagar Ring Road. The affected farmers want application of the Right to Fair Compensation Act in the same way as affected parties in Ganderbal wanted.

The declaration under section 6 for the Srinagar Ring Road project was issued in August 2017 in the villages of Choon, Razwen, Buchroo, Ganji Bagh, Gudsathoo, Wathoora etc. It was thus mandatory for the Collector Land Acquisition, Budgam, to finalise the awards by July-August 2019 i.e., within 2 years as mandated under section 11-B of repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934.

This section of the erstwhile act mandates the collector to complete acquisition proceedings within 2 years from the date of declaring an intent to acquire the land under section 6 of the Act. If he fails to do so, the notification and proceedings lapse & fresh notification has to be issued.

The awards were not prepared within stipulated time. The Collector had to issue fresh notification for Srinagar Ring Road land acquisition under the central Right to Fair Compensation Law (RFCTLARR Act 2013) but this was not done, and instead the repealed law continues to be invoked.

Gulzar Ahmad Akhoon 52, from Wathoora Budgam district lost his entire land (4 kanal 12 marlas) to the government. Until last year he would grow paddy and mustard on his land and survive through his farm revenues, plus running a small pharmacy in the village. He sold his house for Rs 56 lakhs to purchase a piece of land.

He gave Rs 56 lakhs as advance payment to another land owner and has to pay another Rs 84 lakhs by August 20, 2022. He already lost 4 kanals and 12 marlas of land and was also forced to take back the case from the high court.

He agreed to take compensation money which is much less even than the market rate as he has to pay Rs 84 lakhs to another land owner from whom he purchased around 1 ½ kanals of land in the same village. His bill was prepared in May this year by Collector Land Acquisition Budgam, but the treasury is dry. From last 90 days he is moving from pillar to post to get the money, but he isn’t able to arrange the same.

“ I met with DC Budgam , Collector Land Acquisition Ring Road project a few days back. They were sympathetic but seemed helpless as money has to come from the civil secretariat. I am feeling depressed as I lost my land and house for peanuts and didn’t get even the paltry amount. Where has the money gone that came from Govt of India - I want justice! Gulzar Ahmad said while speaking to this author

Conclusion

Orientation workshops and training programmes are an urgent need to acquaint revenue officers especially those posted as collectors. It takes at least a year to get familiar with the land revenue laws. This means that it is only fair for the government to ensure that those set to be posted or those posted for this role are prepared for it. Usually, it is the KAS cadre that is engaged and by the time they acquaint themselves with the role, they’re shifted to some other role.

I would suggest the land acquisition collectors be sent for exposure trips in a phased manner to different states where LARR Act 2013 is being implemented in a better way. The Government can also hire master trainers on this subject and senior officers from other states to impart training on land acquisition laws to officers from Jammu & Kashmir. I would also suggest that land acquisition collectors should be transferred only after 3 years, otherwise they won’t be able to do justice.

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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