ANANTNAG: About 2000 odd families in Donipawa village of Anantnag could have been orchardists if the army had not been illegally occupying their land, all 991 kanals of it. Rather, they have become complainants.
In the early nineties, army first set up a huge camp on the state land in the High Ground area of Anantnag town.
Gradually they started extending the occupation to the rich horticulture land belonging to the residents of Donipawa, one of the populous villages located at a distance of 1 km from the district headquarters.
“Since the land of the villagers was next to the state land occupied by the army, the soldiers would harass everyone who dared to visit his land. Fed up with daily harassment the owners finally stopped going there. The army then started constructing buildings on the same land and fenced it,” a group of villagers of Donipawa told Kashmir Reader.
Each of about 2000 families in the Valley own some land occupied by the army.
“We used to grown almond on the land and some of the owners had switched to apple cultivation and they were earning handsomely. The army turned the land into a barren camp by cutting trees and constructing buildings,” said Nazir Ahmad Reshi, who has been pleading the case of dispossessed villagers.
Another resident, Riyaz Ahmad, said that the land (a karewa) could have been the “most famous apple-producing karewas in the Valley” if it were not under army’s occupation.
Reshi said that many of the land owners work in a local stone quarry to earn their livelihood.
“Only a couple of years ago a young man with a post-graduate degree died during quarrying. And I can clearly tell you this is all because of the army occupation of our land,” Reshi added.
The army, Reshi said, is not even ready to pay the rent to them.
“I have been personally pleading the rent case of the occupied land for the past seven years but army is not ready to pay us the rent. Now they have agreed to pay rent but with effect from only 2005 when the fact is that they have been occupying our land since 1992,” he said.
In a nearby Shirpora village, though some families had managed to get their rent cases cleared but they said what they get is peanuts.
“The rent for the occupied private land by the army was revised twice since 2003. As per the revised rates army is supposed to provide us 16,875 rupees per kanal but we are being paid only 2,250 rupees,” said Mohammad Amin Reshi, who heads the committee of the locals whose land has been occupied by the army.
“If they free our land we can generate lakhs of rupees from every kanal but it is irony we are being paid 2250 against the same. The army is not willing to pay us the rent as per the revised rates,” Reshi told Kashmir Reader.
Srinagar based defense spokesman, did not respond to repeated calls from Kashmir Reader since Sunday and, when this reporter sought his version through text message, he did not reply.