By Gautam Navlakha
That land related struggles are passionate, and filled with urgency, is rather well known. Battles around land have spawned wars. India is witness to land related struggles for all of its post 1947 existence. The common factor in these struggles post-1947with Kashmir is not that the exact same Constitutional arrangement is provided, but the manner in which every type of Constitutional guarantees gets tweaked/amended/modified across India. Despite Schedule V and VI of the Indian Constitution, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas, Forest Rights Act etc, forest dwellers in India have been waging a relentless resistance against their brazen violation in the central Indian provinces of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Maharashtra etc. Adivasis are in the centre of the war being waged in the name of crushing the Maoist rebellion. Seen in this light, people in Jammu and Kashmir must realise that no matter what the constitutional guarantee, laws, assurances and soothing words of J&K’s politicians, the Indian State still manages to push through acquisition of land against the wishes and concerns of the local population.
The land grab is justified in myriad forms: in the name of bringing employment and welfare under the broad rubric of “development”, ‘national’ security, land for military’s living, recreation, training, rehabilitation of displaced people, relief for pilgrims etc. So in Kashmir, despite constitutionally guaranteed “state subject hood”, land grab remains the state’s policy. If the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s issuing of a tender for construction of “staff quarters” in Gulmarg without any statutory permission and in defiance of J&K High Court order from 2012 was brazen, the duplicity of the bureaucracy and pro-Indian political formations is shown in the manner in which the proposal for setting up of Sainik Colonies for ex soldiers and families of those who died or served for three years in J&K, was managed from 2011 to 2016, and where one such land for a colony was identified, Old Srinagar airport at Humhama, but got stuck for the reason that a number of applicants rose and the Rajya Sainik Board asked for more land, over and above 300 kanals, to accommodate the new applicants. The leaders of the government conveniently absented themselves from meetings where decisions were finalised, and the officials merrily went ahead with it. Being absent from meetings does not mean government leaders were not privy to the decision.
So, the passage of the New Industrial Policy during Governor’s Rule, and the BJP-PDP government’s pretended ignorance of it is a class apart. But for its public expose, this would have been enforced. The sinister nature of the move is evident in two dimensions. To advocate that non state capital inflows are the way out of crisis and therefore let anyone who wants to come get land in industrial estates or anywhere of their choice, makes for a pathetic understanding of the political economy of J&K determined by its disputed nature as well as geographical specificity. In such a context, to ask anyone to ‘come get land’ for 99 years lease, transferable, was to establish facts on the ground. But large industry is neither viable nor required in J&K. Encouraging local entrepreneurship is far superior to inviting outside investments. The experience of Hindustan Lever should inform readers that once excise duty concession ended the company folded its unit and quit J&K. They had come because of tax exemptions offered by the state. In any case, in this age of competition to attract capital investments from outside, Indian states are offering the moon to investors, so to say. Why must J&K join the rat race by hawking land, which in J&K deserves to be protected precisely because in Kashmir land is scarce and fertile land scarcer? And who stands to benefit from leased land, for all practical purposes, in perpetuity?
If we add the military to this brew we discover that although the army’s Field Firing Range at Tosamaidan has been vacated the army was given an alternate piece of land at Bajpathari in Bandipur. Although 12 re-notifications have been stalled as per NGT order to ensure a 10 km long distance between FFR from inhabitations, the important thing to note is that these are suspended and not cancelled. The stalled nature of the project is because of local people’s resistance and alertness of people. The point is that in every situation, as management of news and muting of people’s resistance, the ‘carrot and stick’ is used. Despite the “goli se nahi boli se” pledge Kashmir continues to bleed and the battle of ideas remains in limbo. Since the stick is proving to be ineffectual in most situations, nevertheless, politicians play the word game.
Words of assurance and comfort are made, but nothing tangible is ever offered. So, read closely what the PDP had to say on Industrial Policy, there was no categorical rejection of the clause, only a commitment to “review” it. That apart, it was claimed by the PDP that PDP, NC, Congress and BJP (sic!) are one on support for Article 370 and the special status of J&K. Which means nothing because each of them has been complicit in promoting the land grab. The point is that there is enough leeway in the system for the Indian State to promote land grab to meet the military’s need, in the name of pilgrimage and tourism as in Amarnath and Gulmarg, industrial colonies, Sainik colonies and “staff quarters” for Indian government entities, notwithstanding Article 370 and the special status. If BARC didn’t feel it necessary to get permission for “staff quarters” in Gulmarg, obviously they felt they can get away with anything. Thus the hollowing out of Article 370 is evident in land acquisitions or attempts at it across J&K since 1947. It would be useful for some student to research land ownership laws in J&K. How laws, rules and regulations changed over the years and who got possession of land.
It might be of interest for people of J&K to know that the government of India, despite signing the Naga Accord in 1963 and constitutionally committing itself under Article 371A to clause (iv) which gave “ownership and transfer of land and its resources” to Nagaland, began to backtrack and released tenders for oil and natural gas exploration in Nagaland when they had no authority to do so. It caused a ruckus and every section of Naga society came out against it. So pledges and assurance do not mean much unless a self-respecting government in J&K asserts its rights.
Now, what sets Kashmir apart is that land grab here is multi-pronged for military, for ex-soldiers, for tourism, pilgrimage, industry…. In forest areas of central India it is for mining, dams on rivers and industries. Security forces’ camps provide security to these operations. War is directly related to this. In Kashmir, the unresolved dispute conditions everything. But the act of dispossession should not distract from destruction of the ecology and economy by this attempt to create non-state stakeholders in the name of faith, industry and development. Faith in particular, has driven a mushrooming of holy spot/relics, and promotion of rights in the name of sacredness and comfort of pilgrims. Thus, faith too has become a way of promoting land grab and needs to be looked at closely. Because by invoking faith, rights of local communities are grievously injured, new stakeholders created and the Indian state promotes and foists religious/communal polarising issues.
My point is simply that verbal assurances should not fool people into believing that the BJP-PDP Government, or any other combination for that matter, really would put a halt to this enterprise of land grab. It is evident from 60 years of struggle over Tosamaidan that when the army agreed to vacate the meadow, it was after they were offered land to set up another FFR in Bandipur! In Amarnath, instead of the J&K state and its people running and owning the area of the pilgrimage, and regulating it to safeguard its fragile ecology, a state within the state was created by NC-Congress and today SASB reportedly has dispensed with most local service providers and remains unconcerned about the local community. People of J&K are net losers in all this, and in more than one way.
Nevertheless, while critiquing and resisting, there is a crying need for exploring what should and can be done, even when subjugated, to prevent further land grab, get occupied land freed, and also what should be done with the land so freed. Occupation could not erase the desire for Azadi: why must people’s capacity to imagine that state of ‘freedom’ be devoid of an alternative vision for the future, under that very same condition?
—Gautam Navlakha is a journalist, Indian civil liberties, democratic and human rights activist. He has been closely associated with the Economic and Political Weekly, and is also the co-convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir. He has also extensively worked in the Chhattisgarh region, and is the author of “Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion”