Affected villagers need justice

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
On the issue of Semi Ring Road projects in Kashmir valley and Jammu, I have written several articles during last one year. I have been agitating and complaining that J&K Government along with National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) are paying meager compensation to affected farmers of Kathua , Samba, Jammu, Udhampur, Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar, Baramulla, Bandipora and Ganderbal districts. The land acquisition in Jammu and Kashmir is not being done under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013, which is not applicable to J&K. The State Government still follows the J&K Land Acquisition Act of 1934, dating back to the time of Maharaja Hari Singh. 2013 Land Acquisition law entitles farmers to get four times more compensation than market value of land but as the law is not applicable in J&K, affected people continue to suffer and their lands continue to be occupied forcibly by the Government. As we have been busy protesting over forcible land acquisition a large group of farmers from Budgam recently got in touch with us. They too suffer the same way as do the farmers of Ring Road . People affected with land acquisition for Amargarh Samba transmission line allege that their land is being forcibly acquired by a power company namely Sterlite Grid Ltd which has been allotted contract for laying of Samba Amargarh 400 KVA transmission line. The company is erecting towers as well. The farmers allege that power company is paying compensation only to those farmers whose land has been acquired for erection of towers. This compensation is again very meager as affected farmers, who, under the 1934 Act, are entitled to only the market value of their land, plus a 15 per cent ‘Jibanara’ or solatium. Even the market value is taken to be just the circle rate, at which stamp duty is payable. This rate is way below the actual market value. For a State with very little agricultural land and cultivated by sub-marginal farmers, the compensation levels should, in fact, be higher than even that provided in the 2013 law. Interestingly, the J&K Land Acquisition Rules provide for private negotiation between buyer and seller, but neither the power company like Sterlite Grid or road construction company like NHAI are ready for these negotiations. Irony is that compensation for fruit trees which are coming under transmission line alignment is not given in accordance with laws of Horticulture Department. At some places a walnut tree of 30 to 40 years of age has been acquired for a payment of 2 lakhs, at some place same owner of similar tree is given Rs 3 lakhs and at many places the owner of the tree of same age was given mere Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 only. We have collected the details of this arbitrary compensation under Right to Information Act (RTI)
About the Project :
The Ministry of Power Government of India through its Rural Electrification Transmission Projects Corporation Ltd (RETPCL) invited tenders for establishment of 7 x 105 MVA, 400/220 kV GIS substation at Amargarh, Jalandhar – Samba 400 kV D/C line, Samba – Amargarh 400 kV D/C routed through Akhnoor and Rajouri. RETPCL is also the Bid Process Coordinator (BPC) of this project. A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) namely Northern Region Strengthening Scheme Transmission Limited (NRSS 29) was created which is a subsidiary of Sterlite Grid Limited. Bid Process Coordinator(BPC) ie Rural Electrification Corporation estimated Rs 2621 crores for request for Qualification. For Amargarh Samba line contract was awarded on 15.12.2014. The project is said to be completed by October 2018. For purposes of export of power generated from Kishen Ganga Hydroelectric project, NHPCs Uri civil and other Hydroelectric projects in Jammu & Kashmir, Power Grid Corporation of India is involved in the transmission of power. Both Rural Electrification Transmission Projects Corp Ltd and Power Grid Corporation of India , independent of each-other are two main agencies having been entrusted with the task of execution of the projects relating to installation of towers and overhead 440 KV DC transmission lines as per the alignments already having been approved. For purposes of accomplishment of projects the proposed transmission lines are being carried through forests, state lands and a large chunk of private propriety land having well established apple, pear, walnut orchards and agricultural land besides land carrying various species of non fruit bearing trees like poplars , willow, kikar etc. In the event of installation and erection of the proposed towers and transmission lines a large number of these trees are being axed and uprooted. Hundreds of walnut trees have been axed without proper permission in many villages. Local administration instead of coming to the rescue of poor people or protecting unnecessary felling of fruit and non fruit bearing trees along with forest trees have become agents of the power companies executing the project. The grievance of the affected people especially the poor farmers is neither aimed at changing the alignment or creating any kind of impediment in execution of the project. The grievance of the villagers is that their landed property has been rendered extremely useless to the extent that neither any construction can be undertaken within the affected area of the transmission line nor they will be able to enjoy the benefits of their well established orchards through which transmission lines are being installed. It is within this gamut that the affected people are seeking interference of Government especially the Governor administration.
The Rural Electrification Corporation after completion of bid process allotted the project to Sterlite Grid Ltd which in-turn asked its subsidiary Northern Region Strengthening Scheme Transmission Limited (NRSS XXIX Transmission Ltd) for partial execution of the project. NRSS is also understood to have engaged the services of Unitech Power Transmission Ltd. Many residents in Watrad , Kachwari, Kutbal, Bonnen Batwodder and surrounding villages in Budgam area allege that some employees of Sterlite Grid and Unitech Power are paying enough compensation to some blue eyed people or to those who are greasing their palms . There are serious allegations of corruption and nepotism. It is alleged that compensation has been paid to such families / individuals whose land has not at all been acquired or whose fruit bearing trees were not at all axed. I would appeal managements of both Sterlite and Unitech to send their high level inquiry team to J&K and get the matter probed. It is alleged that local officials of Revenue and Police departments are also involved in this nexus. Sources have revealed that forest trees in huge numbers have been axed in several districts of J&K , but the compensation received by Forest department is very meager. There are allegations that sale of felled forest trees in back-market is also being undertaken at some places. At the end of the day poor and marginal farmers who have no access to politicians or cannot pay bribes are being made to suffer.
One Fatima Begum a widow from Bonen Batwodder village in Budgam told me that her 8 kanals of apple orchard (15 years of age) is being forcibly acquired while as she is asked to accept a very meager compensation of Rs 4 to 5 lakhs. When she resisted, police was called and she along with her four daughters and a mentally retarded son were threatened and manhandled only a few months back. Fatima along with a large number of people now plan to meet Advisor to Governor Khurshid Ahmad Ganai who looks after Revenue and Horticulture departments in State. The affected people tried to meet Governor N N Vohra but they failed to get an appointment with him. The Horticulture department like in case of Ring Road land acquisition is following its year 1995 schedule wherein assessments are made @ Rs 16 / Kg for apple and Rs 104 / Kg for walnut. These fruits on the other hand are sold @ Rs 80 and Rs 300 /Kg in market as on date.