‘No transparency in anti-encroachment drive:’ Kashmir traders’ body as govt intensifies ‘state land’ retrieval campaign 

KCCI held an urgent press conference today at Srinagar. | Photo: Afnan Habib

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCC&I) held an urgent press conference today and urged the government to bring a formal order in the matter. 

Afnan Habib | TwoCircles.net 

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SRINAGAR (JAMMU & KASHMIR) — Criticising the government for the ongoing anti-encroachment drive to retrieve state land, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCC&I) today said that the anti-encroachment drive lacks transparency. 

KCCI held an urgent press conference today at Srinagar. 

Sheikh Ashiq, president of KCC&I, said that a formal order should be issued in this respect so that the public is fully aware of it and that accountability needs to be set in the current anti-encroachment operation.

“After yesterday’s shops’ closures at Aftab Market, we spoke with higher-ups today, and we were given the assurance that no more action affecting people’s ability to support themselves will be done,” Ashiq said.

He said a formal order in this matter is essential to stop the chaos, adding that they are not here to defend the land mafia and those who have seized the land but to ensure that the people’s livelihood is not impacted.

Despite opposition from locals and various political groups, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has intensified its massive land retrieval drive throughout the Union Territory since last week. 

Political parties have mounted criticism of the drive and urged authorities that attempts to clear ‘encroachments’ and remove thousands from ‘state land’ will primarily affect low-income families and cause further economic issues.

Authorities moved into overdrive on Tuesday, a day after the culmination of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar, to reclaim government land encroached upon by influential people, demolishing the exteriors of homes owned by a former minister, the family of a top police officer, and a businessman.

A crew from the revenue department demolished the boundary wall and a security bunker of the home of former minister and Congress leader Peerzada Mohammad Sayyed in the Dahmal Khoshipora region of south Kashmir. 

The revenue department also demolished the exterior wall of an orchard field owned by the family of a deputy inspector general of police rank officer in the Mattan neighbourhood of Anantnag, officials said

Authorities on Wednesday also sealed more than 20 shops at Aftab Market in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar, alleging that the land was being occupied illegally. 

2.7 kanals of land were illegally occupied, where more than 20 shops were established, according to a report by the news agency Kashmir News Observer (KNO), which cited an official. 

While protesting against the move, shopkeepers alleged that they had been paying rent to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation.

On Thursday, however, all the shops were unsealed by the authorities, taking into account the livelihood of the shopkeepers.

Earlier, the authorities razed the boundary wall and guardhouse at the residence of former minister and National Conference (NC) general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar in the Humhama area. 

After issuing the order on January 9 requiring all district authorities to remove all encroachments on state land by January 31, 2023, the Jammu and Kashmir administration faced much criticism. There have also been a lot of demonstrations amid growing concerns over “dispossession.”

Sajad Lone, the president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC), had submitted a letter to Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha pleading with him to make an official order for the impoverished and marginalized people so they may be distinguished from others who are engaged in a land grab. 

Mehbooba Mufti, the head of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), claimed on Wednesday that the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir had turned the anti-encroachment campaign into a weapon to target locals just like the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) (UAPA) Act. 

“This is another tactic in the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) arsenal, similar to UAPA, PSA, and the weaponization of NIA and other law enforcement organizations. They are utilizing it to make residents of Jammu and Kashmir homeless”, Mehbooba Mufti said in Srinagar.

As she accused the BJP of trying to incite a rich-versus-poor division, Mufti asserted that many of these households had been there before 1947, during the reign of the Maharaja.

“Whether in Bathindi in Jammu or Kashmir or even in the border regions, they are razing houses on six Marlas of land. They don’t have much money. They (BJP) split Hindus and Muslims first, then Gujjars and Paharis, Shias and Sunnis, and now they’re trying to divide the rich and the poor in the same way”, She said.

According to the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the government has failed to reclaim the territory from China and is instead persecuting residents of the Union Territory. 

“Why don’t they recover the 20,000 Kanal of land China has taken from us? Before anything else, they should take back Kacharai land (Grazing Territory) from China. Usage of Kacharai land here is a right of the people”, she added.

Afnan Habib is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. He tweets @afnanhabib