It was a great deal of gusto with which the fruit growers applied for allotment of shop sites in the Fruit and Vegetable Mandi at Jablipora in District Anantnag, in 2013.
A pretentious glitter was attached by the government to the Jablipora Fruit Market project, and it was projected to be one of the best terminal markets to come up within a specific time-frame in the Bijbehara area of south Kashmir’s district Anantnag.
Although it was boasted that the execution of the project will go apace to meet the deadline of its operation in 2019, the same is already over by nearly three years.
When will the project, in the face of prevailing impediments, reach its fruition cannot be said; the “sagacity” of the authorities has once again pushed the project into legal tangle by issuing a circular scrapping the whole process for allotment of shop sites.
A batch of litigations assailing the government action is now pending disposal before the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
These pleas raise serious legal questions; whether in the absence of a public interest, the government without a proper justification can issue a circular undoing the earlier process for the allotment of the shop sites.
The circular apparently is out of sync with the facts, and seemingly amounts to nothing more than a shuck. What is stated to have prompted the government to nullify the allotment process is that the applications were received without regard to availability of land for construction of shops and the norms of allotment.
Having placed documentary proof on record, in their pleas before the High court, the fruit growers have termed this contention by the government as twisting of facts and travesty of truth. In fact, the pleas have raised certain important legal points, and it remains to be seen whether the government decision withstands the legal scrutiny.
One of the questions to be considered by the Court to give its finding over is whether without any justification a decision taken by a political entity can be scrapped by a non-political entity (administration), a legal point raised in one of the pleas. This argument has been made in keeping with some Supreme Court pronouncements which underline that it cannot be done.
As per the notification, each fruit grower was required to deposit Rs one lakh as an advance payment, along with his application, with the Department of Horticulture Marketing and Planning, in 2013.
This premium money was to be spent on developing the infrastructure for the Mandi. After nearly ten years when the Mandi was now required to be made operational for those on whose funds its infrastructure came into existence, the government took a strange, and absolutely non-serious, decision. It chose to show the door to those fruit growers who have invested their hard earned money into the project.
Indeed, it reflects glaring apathy, and flagrant misuse of authority to utilise the funds of someone, and prevent him from harvesting the benefits of his investment subsequently. The decision to return the premium to the growers, and scrap the allotment of shops is indeed arbitrary. It is like an edifice whose foundation is laid on sand and is hopefully bound to collapse on legal scrutiny.
Floating projects and hogging the headlines, is a norm now. Scraping the projects at will without application of mind has become a concomitant part of it.
The applicant growers believe that annulment of the process for allotment of shop sites in Jablipora Mandi is giving room to suspicion that strings are, perhaps, being pulled behind the scenes to accommodate blue eyed persons.
This harboured notion is bound to instil a devastating feeling of instability among the fruit growers who are clinging to a hope for over a decade now. They have invested in terms of time and money to see the market come up.
As they have a produce but no market to sell it, these fruit growers find themselves as being at a severe disadvantage commercially. They question the towering claims of the government regarding boosting horticulture, the mainstay to the economy of Kashmir.
This fact cannot be denied that the government is competent to junk an exercise of a contract but it must be backed by a strong public interest. A frivolous contention, and a flimsy ground, cannot nullify a project which has coursed through its embryonic stage and is near completion. Legal scrutiny cannot be winked at while taking a decision to abandon an exercise the government has already undertaken.
If the court allows the pleas, an obligation is cast upon the authorities in the government to make the allotment of the shops permanent, so that delay does not mar this dream project any further. One wonders whether allotment of the shop-sites in Jablipora Mandi is so difficult a rocket science that no one can understand it.
A legion of directors in the Department of Horticulture Marketing and Planning has changed the seat since 2013 but none has been able to make the Jablipora Mandi functional permanently.
Though the Mandi was made functional temporarily last year, it was closed shortly as the High Court stayed the move. It is believed that the allotment of the shop-sites on a temporary basis was aimed at camouflaging the failure of the department to make the Mandi operational, in keeping with the commitment to fruit growers.
It cannot be denied that the apple production in Anantnag district is greater than the share of most of the other districts. Only Anantnag district lacks an operational fruit Mandi while other districts have fruit markets functional over years now.
The markets are run by the growers from the district where these are located. Obviously, preference has been given to applicants within the district.
Depriving the fruit growers of Anantnag district of the right to have their own Mandi and the right to the shops-sites in the Mandi is a grave injustice. Applicants from Anantnag district cannot be denied the right of preference over the shops as the government advertisement notice very conspicuously indicates so.
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.