Books | A Fear That Refuses To Go

How revocation of Article 370 has reinforced old insecurities. An extract

A Fear That
Refuses To GoAnuradha Bhasin

According to government records, the Indian military has grabbed 53,353 hectares in Kashmir under the guise of ‘national security’. In early 2018, former J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti informed the legislative assembly that 51,116 kanals of state land in Jammu and 379,817 kanals of land in Kashmir were under the unauthorized occupation of the Indian armed forces. This includes occupation of agricultural land, forest land, state land and private buildings. Which has led to dispossession, depeasantization, and loss of livelihoods, further affecting food sovereignty of the peasantry in rural Kashmir.

In October 2020, just before the land-related laws were change, the Jammu and Kashmir government identified twenty-five acres of grazing land in Budgam district to set up Kashmir’s first Sainik colony. The colony is being set up to provide housing facilities to retired ex-servicemen, hailing from far-flung areas and will also provide them security, owing to their potential vulnerability amidst the bloody conflict.

However, locally this has triggered fears of a colony project aimed at settling retired armed forces by dislodging the locals. Many Kashmiris believe that with the broadened definition of domiciles and land now open to all outsiders, such colonies may be used to engineer an influx of settlers under the garb of providing facilities to the retired security personnel.

The chosen site has also raised many eyebrows. Revenue officials in all the ten districts of Kashmir were asked to identify land for the colony. The Budgam tehsildar, Nusrat Aziz, said that ‘the only place we could find that much land was Rakh-e-Arth near Bemina but nothing has been finalized yet. We have only given our recommendation.’ Rakh-e-Arth is a wetland area in Budgam, which due to ecological reasons, is not fit for construction.

Interestingly, in 2000, the Jammu and Kashmir Government launched an ambitious project to resettle some 10,000 illegal Dal dwellers, in an attempt to conserve the Dal Lake, at Rakh-e-Arth. Funded by both the Central and state governments at an estimated cost of Rs 416.72 crore, 7,526 kanals (940 acres) of land have been acquired for the project. The resettlement package includes a plot of land, Rs 1.05 lakh for building the house structure, and monetary compensation of Rs 3.91 lakh under the supervision of Lake and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA). What seems like a dream, state-of-the-art project on paper is a nightmare for the locals, who not only face a myriad of problems being relocated to a place that is one hour’s drive away from their original dwellings in the Dal Lake area, which were also connected to their livelihoods—rowing shikaras, growing and selling vegetables in the Dal—but also because of the gap between the promise of good roads, sewage system, housing project et al. and the ground reality. LAWDA has been able to settle only 20 per cent people, not only because of the tardy pace of work but also because of the impossibility of executing a plan that has failed to take into account the difficulty of constructing houses in a marshy wetland.

Jennifer Kishan, writing for the Firstpost, gives a graphic image of the area:

It is difficult to traverse the muddy terrain of the colony’s settlements. Truckloads of soil are being deposited by huge cranes in the distance, vast stretches of marshy land stare back in defiance. A short spell of rain and the place turns back into the flood channel that it once was. Uninhabitable concrete structures lie abandoned with cracks in their walls and ceilings. Sewer spills emanate an acrid smell. ‘Even if they put gold on these roads, it will only sink; they have taken us out of heaven and banished us to hell,’ says Faiz Ahmed Dar, forty-five, a resident of the Rakh-e-Arth Resettlement Colony.

Now added to the anxieties of dealing with land that constantly continues to sink, the resettled Dal dwellers are now faced with a new threat—they would be displaced from even this new home to erect residential accommodation for the ex-servicemen. Abdul Samad Malla, an elderly resident of Rakh-e-Arth, says that an exclusive housing colony for retired Kashmiri soldiers at Rakh-e-Arth could be a precursor to similar projects for retired soldiers from outside.

The anxiety is not only pertaining to the possibility of extension beyond the twenty-five acres, a small fragment of the total area of Rakh-e-Arth, but also how the proximity of even a small strip of a heavily securitized area housing ex-security personnel is likely to impact and alter their lives. ‘A housing colony for soldiers on even ten acres of land is a big problem for us. Soldiers will need security and that means a continuous movement of soldiers. If they are attacked, we will have to face the music,’ Fayaz Ahmed Dar said.

Locals in Chitterhama and Khimber highlands in Srinagar, used as pastures, are similarly worried. They say that the government has identified over 500 kanals of land in their area for setting up a CRPF camp, according to a report in The Sunday Guardian. The same report points out that the UT administration of Jammu and Kashmir was asked to identify and transfer land to the CRPF as soon as possible for the establishment of Battalion Camping Sites, or BCSs, in both divisions of the Union Territory. UT administration officials further said that they have received a request for land from the CRPF and it would be handed over as soon as the process is complete.

‘In its request, the CRPF has said that the majority of the CRPF camps, both in Jammu and Srinagar, were in makeshift places and they do not have the capacity to house battalion headquarters,’ the report said and added that the CRPF wants to establish such locations in Kashmir at twenty places almost in all the districts and have requested for nine locations in the Jammu region.

Anuradha Bhasin
HarperCollins, Pg 370, Rs 699



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