Targeting Jammu: Now Gandhinagar Residents?

K B Jandial
On every action of the administration that upsets Jammu, a serious thought comes to the mind of every proud Dogra: why, after abrogation of contentious Article 370 of the Constitution, Jammu is facing the heat of almost every action of UT Govt? Be these inadvertent or designed, the fact remains that the nationalist people of Jammu are feeling traumatized. Couldn’t these be avoided?

Straight Talk

The UT administration run by bureaucrats (overwhelmingly non-locals having no roots in Jammu, or for that matter, even in Kashmir) is devoid of compassion and empathy for the people. It is mainly because the bureaucrats vested with absolute power has no political inputs and decisions taken purportedly are ‘in the interest of UT’ and as per Rule Book, interpreting the rules in their own ways, least bothered on their fallout on gullible people. In the absence of political inputs ( not even of the ruling BJP), Jammuites accused bureaucratic decisions of a mix of disdain for the people, arrogance and tenacity (‘no one knows the governance better than we’), unresponsiveness to people’s miseries and unmindful of consequent inconvenience and harassment of the people. Perhaps, they consider them violators, encroachers, spineless or at best favor seekers. They feel more comfortable in delaying decisions or picking up holes in matters that reach their table for approval or decision. They treat it another opportunity to exhibit their administrative acumen, wisdom and the authority. Yes, nobody can contest it; the bureaucrats are the real rulers in present dispensation and calling shots, Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha’s initiatives to reach out to the people, holding public durbars and accelerating pace of development notwithstanding.
Howsoever honest and rule abiding the bureaucratic administration may be, it is no substitute for a political dispensation which has deep roots in the society, politicians’ projected image of corruption, favourtism & nepotism notwithstanding. This was felt after six-year long President Rule in J&K in nineties and same is being felt today. People have started remembering the political dispensation.
At J&K 175th Foundation Day function at historic Dogra Sadar Sabha, Jammu to commemorate the establishment of the unified State of Jammu & Kashmir under Maharaja Gulab Singh under Treaty of Amritsar, one speaker after another, coming from different fields: academia, trade & business, Chamber and Commerce, pensioners, social activists, heads of different associations, lawyers, members of DDCs and farmers, opened their saddened hearts to narrate their woes, narrating stories of discrimination they faced and wondered whether they sought abrogation of Article 370 to get this treatment. Even anti-Kashmiri sentiments are now waning as Jammu continued to get rough deal amid NC supremo exploiting the situation asking Jammu to revisit the historic decision of 5th August, 2019 and self-introspect on real-time benefits.
Contractors are sore over their continued unpaid claims despite meeting the Advisor. Over twenty bonafide shopkeepers at Exhibitions Ground are made shelter less after demolition of their shops for an ambitious project without alternate accommodation. Mahajans and Khatris are debarred from pursuing agricultural avocation by declaring them non-agriculturalists by amending the J&K Revenue Act. Jammu based liquor business is also derailed. But nobody appears to be listening to these and many more woes.
In a latest dose of harassment to Jammuites, the ‘responsive’ administration has come up with a unique plan to “retrieve” 10-ft strip in the front from the plot holders of J&K’s oldest well-planned Housing Colony of Gandhinagar. Intriguingly, the Housing Board did not issue any individual or public notice about “encroachment” of land that it sought to retrieve through ‘arm twisting’. Adopting a strategy of coercion, the Housing Board is withholding the online NOC of those plot holders who have submitted their building plans to JMC for approval to reconstruct or renovate the old structure, forcing them to visit its office. It is here they are told about unauthorised possession of 10ft land in the front and unless they vacate it by reconstructing the boundary wall 10-ft inside their plot, NOC would not be given. Indeed, a clever move. The gullible owners, who had urgency for reconstruction and have arranged money for the purpose, succumbed to arm-twisting and reconstructed their boundary wall 10-ft inside their plot and got NOC. This coercion is publicized in the press as “voluntary surrender of excess land by the owners”.
The over-enthusiastic M D Housing Board in an interview on a news web portal, hinted to remove this ‘encroachment” soon by force if not vacated by the residents voluntarily. While talking to individual plot holders, he minced no words about the commitment given to the Chief Secretary for vacation of this “grabbed” land in a specified time line. Why this aggression on peaceful permissible possession of the land of Gandhinagar residents? After 60 years? Are they really “encroachers”? If at all, it is encroachment, then how and why all the building plans of Gandhinagar colony running into thousands were approved by JMC with Housing Board’s NOCs since inception despite this “encroachment”?
Gandhinagar Housing Colony was set up by then PM Bakshi Gh. Mohd in late fifties who wanted to develop it as J&K’s best housing colony, being the first one after Independence. There was reluctance from Jammu people to move out of the comfortable environs of the old city, and more so, when the site of the proposed colony was almost a jungle. Bakshi started persuading first the Govt officers of all levels and ‘forced’ them to get plots at very concessional rates (Rs 500, Rs 1500 & Rs 2500 for plots of different sizes ) along with other incentives including house building loan. Then, he persuaded the unwilling local prominent citizens, businessmen, veterans, politicians who too fell in line.
The reputed Town Planner, Rizvi who was engaged to prepare its layout, provided lot of open spaces, big parks in every pocket and wide front roads and back lanes. Since the Town Planner had earmarked 50-feet wide arterial roads and 15-feet back lanes, quite wide even by today’s standard, the Govt realised the mistake of this “unmaintainable facility” and wisely handed over to the plot holders uniform strips both in the front and rear side. One such Govt order No 36-7-HD-56-C of 7th April, 1961 is in circulation. It accorded sanction for handing over to the concerned plot holders “additional land of 1125 sq. ft. that had become available as a result of reduction of the unnecessary 15-ft wide lane”( back lane) in block ‘C’ against payment of Rs.313 per plot. Similarly, a strip of 10-ft had become available in the front as a result of “reduction of unnecessary wide arterial roads in the front side” was allowed to be used by the concerned plot holders as part of green patch but the order is not forthcoming. It was done uniformly that is evident from the same alignment of boundary walls of all plots on all roads. And so is the alignment of other civic amenities like drains, street light etc.
After more than sixty years of peaceful permissible possession, the Housing Board, for no reason or rhyme, has started targeting the residents as “encroachers”. It has unleashed a wave of “administrative terror” against the residents of Gandhinagar besides destabilizing the colony. In several cases, construction had been raised in the front portion including on the additional strip in violation of rules with connivance of the Municipality and tacit approval of Housing Board authorities. They have failed to prevent commercialization of residential area of Gandhinagar, and so are in other colonies, and now they are threatening to demolish. Why destabilise a well-established colony?
Residents were wondering as to why the Housing Board has not issued legal notices for this “encroachment”. The answer lies in the settled legal position of limitation period to take back possession of this land. The Limitation Act of 1963, now stood extended to J&K UT, debars the Govt to legally seek possession of the land from the bonafide allottees after 30 years of uninterrupted adverse possession. So, even if Govt order of 1961 allowing uninterrupted usage of these strips by the allottees is not forthcoming, the Housing Board has ‘forfeited its right” to take back this strip in view of the expiry of prescribed limitation period. This explains why the House Board is coercing the gullible residents to voluntarily surrender this strip and not issuing legal notices.
The Supreme Court of India observed in Karnataka Board of Wakf (Wakf) vs. Government of India that, under section 27 and section 65 of the Limitation Act, the right of the original owner of the land extinguishes if he does not interfere within the specified time limit. This time limit differs from private property to Government property. In case of private property, limitation period is 12 years under Article 65 of schedule 1 in case of Govt property it is 30 years under Article 112 of schedule 1 of the Limitation Act. In a recent judgment the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Indu Malhotra gave judgment in favor of an old widow whose property was seized by the Himachal Pradesh government for construction of a road. This law comes to the rescue of those who took care of the land for a long period of time uninterrupted and by adverse possession they can gain ownership over the land. So, the Housing Board cannot legally deprive the residents of this land.
The administration didn’t share the purpose of depriving people of the strip. However, a press report did mention about a proposal of creating a “cycling track” in Gandhinagar. Is it prudent to create this track in a 65-year old colony where many structures had come up even in this front which stood regularised under law by payment of compounding fee? Is the Housing Board adventuring to demolish half of the Gandhinagar Colony in its fancy to create a ‘cycling track’? Why can’t the authorities think of creating it in new colonies or alongside the wide roads like University Road, Sainik Colony road, Roop Nagar colony etc. Why tormenting peacefully living residents of Gandhinagar?
Many illegal colonies, even on Govt land, had been regularised in the past. But today, the administration is applying different yardstick for different localities. The available strips in front of houses in Trikuta Nagar and Channi Himmat colonies had been regularised on payment of certain charges. But in case of Gandhinagar, strips in permissible possession of over 60 year are now being “retrieved” under coercion. How come these officers are so ignorant about the law of limitation law and the consequent harassment to the peace loving Dogras unless they are hell bent to teach Jammu a lesson? The BJP leaders to whom the agitated residents have met too have no answers for this ill-advised and ill-conceived Housing Department action. Is pro-people political Lt Governor listening to Jammu’s woes and intervene?