Ring Road projects in Limbo

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
This is my 10th piece on the subject of forcible and illegitimate land acquisition process being adopted in Jammu & Kashmir. From last 7 years I have been writing on the issue but it seems authorities are not serious about the issues of farmers and affected land owners. Farmers in J&K whose land was being acquired for various developmental projects are demanding fair compensation for their acquired land. This was not possible in past as J&K had not adopted Right to Fair Compensation law (central law). This law guarantees 2 to 4 times more compensation than market value of land plus rehabilitation and resettlement of affected people.
After October 31st2019 most of the Central laws have become applicable in J&K, but to their utter dismay, the authorities are not ready to give justice to affected farmers whose land is to be acquired for the Jammu and Srinagar Ring Road projects. It is now almost 3 years since the notification for land acquisition was issued for these projects and till date not even 50 percent of the land acquisition process has been completed. The company which was allotted Srinagar project has been pushed back as they were not handed over the land by Government. In around 70 percent cases awards for compensation awards have not been prepared. Officials say they have made tentative award which is an illegal term used by them. When the awards have not been prepared , how can Govt complete the land acquisition process under old obsolete law (J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934) ?
Farmers want awards to be prepared as per new land acquisition law ie Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR Act 2013). To do so fresh notifications have to be issued especially in places where compensation has not been paid or has been received under protest by affected farmers.
Background of project
In May 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated two semi-ring road projects in J&K. A 58-km stretch in the Jammu region and a 62-km highway in the Valley connecting Pulwama with Ganderbal and passing via Budgam and parts of Srinagar. These projects entail acquisition of already limited farmland. In Budgam district alone 4800 kanals is to be acquired, with over 3,000 fully-grown apple, walnut, plum and other fruit trees set to be axed. Similarly in Jammu district around 3500 kanals of land has already been acquired by Government but compensation has not been paid to everyone on one reason or the other. Following paras briefly describe the causes of discontent and possible solution for redressal of the grievances thereof both on legal and political level.
Causes of discontent
The point to be noted is that land acquisition for both the road projects (Srinagar / Jammu Ring Road) were made under Jammu & Kashmir Land Acquisition Act 1934 wherein the scope for grant of fair compensation , rehabilitation and resettlement was quite limited and oblique. The affected land owners / farmers have been demanding that the land acquisition be made under the central law ie Right to Fair Compensation & Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 (RTFCLARR Act 2013), which was not applicable to J&K, though the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had conveyed to the J&K Government in writing few years back that if the then J&K Government was willing to adopt the central law , NHAI had no objection to make payment under the said law (RFCTLARR Act 2013).
However the then state Government did not consider the proposal for undisclosed but extraneous considerations. In some cases money has been received by farmers under protest while as in many cases the compensation has not at all been paid.
The compensation was to be accessed both for land and also for the crop / fruit and non-fruit bearing trees. The assessment for fruit bearing trees was made as per the old schedule of 1993 wherein compensation paid to apple trees is fixed @ Rs 16 / kg while as the present retail rate of this fruit is Rs 50 to 100 in open market. Same is the case with other fruits and nobody is listening to the woes of affected farmers whose thousands of fruit bearing trees are coming under alignment of Ring Road projects.
On August 5th 2019 a new situation has emerged and the Land Acquisition Act of J&K was repealed and substituted by the central law RFCTLARR Act 2013. The affected farmers are justified to generate discontent in case their cases of compensation are denied to be taken up under the new law on the following grounds :
* That no final award has been passed by the land acquiring authorities (collectors) so far
* That any tentative award is nonest under law as the term “tentative award” has not been used in any law governing land acquisition. This term “Tentative Award” is being used just to carve out a way for denial of fair compensation.
* That no final payment has either been assessed or made to the affected farmers for the acquired land and for the trees / crops. Any payment made or received under protest does not amount to acceptance of any tentative assessment unless compensation accessed on the basis of fairness, rationality, comparatively less land holding and procedures adopted under Central Land Acquisition Law.
The Repealed land acquisition law in Jammu & Kashmir has lost its force as the new law made applicable has a wider scope which is sufficient to satisfy the farmers affected by land acquisition. Persistent demand of the affected farmers has always been for fair compensation as guaranteed under RFCTLARR Act 2013 whose preamble is self explanatory.After the application of central laws to Jammu & Kashmir, if the people are denied fair compensation, which benefit of J&K Reorganization Act 2019 discussed around would accrue to the people of J&K ?Farmers do not understand when National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has always been ready to grant compensation under central law , why the authorities in Jammu & Kashmir are adamant to proceed the land acquisition process under the old and obsolete law which stands repealed and deprive the farmers fair compensation , rehabilitation and resettlement including fair compensation for the crop and fruit bearing trees.
Almost every day and every month protests are organized by farmers in both the regions of J&K (Kashmir / Jammu) and every time authorities are paying a deaf ear as otherwise the problem to settle the issue is simple, moreso when no one among the farmers is creating any hurdle during land acquisition process
* The law governing Right to Fair Compensation is required to be made applicable to all the pending cases of land acquisition relating to two Ring Roads of Jammu and Srinagar retrospectively.
* All previous notifications issued under J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 need to be rescinded and fresh notification under RFCTLARR Act 2013 need to be issued at an earliest forthwith.
* For swift settlement of compensation, a single window system by way of constituting a 3 tier system in the shape of appointment of administrators at the local level , monitoring committee at the union Govt level and an “authority” at the UT level within the meaning of section 43 , section 48 and section 51 of RFCTLARR Act 2013.