Jammu has become safe haven for land-grabbers, who lay hands on the State, especially forest land, anywhere and everywhere, with impunity; thanks to the deep rooted nexus and connivance of politicians, bureaucrats, police and all sorts of vested interests. The malady has become so organised that even separatists and anti-national elements have also been meddling in murky waters to defend the land-grab. They keep giving rabid communal colour to widespread forest encroachments, especially in the outskirts of the capital city of Jammu. This obviously saps the enthusiasm of well meaning officers, who want to evict the encroachers, and emboldens the land-grabbers to grab more.
This afternoon yet another drive to vacate the state land from encroachers turned violent with the grabbers attacking and injuring three officials of the Jammu Development Authority, three policemen and a photo-journalist. The attacks were carried out with rods, sticks and bricks. How can the ‘wrong-doers’ and ‘offenders’ take law in their own hands and indulge in such a gruesome crime. True, the encroachers might have laid their hands with the ‘patronage’ of officials and police at some point of time but that does not entitle them the ownership. Some officials might have benefited; so must have some encroachers but the State is at loss. There has never ever been any effort to pin-point the persons responsible for encroachments and facilitating this menace with a design.
The design or the agenda behind encroachments is not unknown now. The perpetrators are taking advantage of the poverty and innocence of Gujjars. They are made to move with a few cattle and tattered tents to stake claim on a patch of vacant land, which is eventually formalised by way of power and water connections. Then muddy structures come up and sheds provide roofs to cattle. In a span of months, a full-fledged Gujjar Basti becomes postal address of many with a name in the revenue records. As the time passes, the encroached land starts changing hands at the strength of sale-deeds and notary attested affidavits. This is the story behind now posh Bathindi, Sidhra, Sunjwan, parts of Channi, Nikki Tawi, Gole Gujaral to name a few. As per reports, over 3,200 Kanals of land is under the unauthorised occupation of grabbers at Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika and Sidhra areas of the Jammu district. Over the years, strategy has changed to have buyers from one particular community and that too from the Kashmir Valley. If reports are to be believed, in some parts of the so-called temple city, it was made binding for the encroachers to dispose off their encroached land only to a particular community.
For the past few years, the scenario has shifted from Sidhra-Sunjwan-Channi belts to low lying areas of the Jammu city on Akhnoor side and Bari-Brahmana-Samba-Vijaypur on the other side. Some time back, 10 Kanals of prime land was encroached upon in Sikenderpur of Tehsil Bishnah, which was ordered to be retrieved from the encroachers by the High Court but the directives were not implemented because of the nexus between the chronic grabbers and the authorities, including two PDP ministers. The menace is spreading far and wide of the Jammu region, raising genuine apprehensions of imminent demographic change, which is why Kashmiri separatists have also been plunging into the murky deals from time to time. Two years ago, when a sincere drive had been launched against the encroachers of the forest land, Yasin Malik issued a threat to hold a day-long hunger strike against “evicting Muslims from their lands in Jammu and creating fear among the community by deploying Hindu officers in place of Muslim officials”. This was not only a brazen attempt of providing shield to land grabbers but to divide the administration on communal lines also. During eviction drive in parts of Sidhra, a former bureaucrat turned politician had threatened of taking up the issue of alleged harassment to Gujjars in the Legislative Council. This spoke volumes about the connivance of vested interests with land grabber Gujjars.
The land encroachment menace is a major worry for the people of Jammu. The politicians of all hues and bureaucrats, cutting across religious barriers, are behind this malady, mostly to earn quick bucks as also to change the demographic contours of the Jammu region. If a survey is carried out, many bigwigs-politicians of all hues-PDP, NC and Congress– bureaucrats, separatists, activists, all of a particular community and region,-will get exposed. But who will bell the cat. Those creating hue and cry during their days in the Opposition are now ruling the State and in Jammu and Kashmir the rulers have to keep their eyes blindfolded.
The one or two isolated instances of the so-called drives won’t be enough to arrest the fast growing tendency of encroachments by Gujjars at the behest of vested interests. If the present dispensation with BJP as partners are really concerned about the interests of Jammu, a fact finding mission would be set-up as early as possible to unveil as to how much of this land has been alienated and who are the beneficiaries? Equally important will be the fact as to which dispensation facilitated rehabilitation at the State land by providing utility services like power, drinking water and road connectivity.
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