ANANTNAG: At a time when farmers in Anantnag district had little idea about apple growing, residents of Donipawa, situated a kilometre away from Anantnag town, were considered to be masterly orchardists. They made such good profit that each landowner employed hundreds of labourers during the entire harvesting season. But those good old times ended 25 years ago, when the army forcibly occupied their orchards. Today, many of the once-prosperous and famous orchardists of Donipawa do wage labour for their survival.
Ghulam Mohiudin Bhat is the landowner of 14 kanals of orchard land that the army has been occupying since 1992. “The land produced quality apples and almonds in abundance, before it was occupied by the army. I used to engage at least four labourers on daily basis during the entire harvesting season. The armyrendered us landless overnight,” Bhat told Kashmir Reader.
Bhat now teaches at a private school and earns a salary of Rs 4,000 a month. “You have to do something for survival,” he says.
More than 2,000 kanals of orchard land are under the occupation of the army’s 1 Rashtriya Rifles since 1990. In the area of Khuriman Karewa, 991 kanals under the army’s occupation is proprietary land owned by residents of Donipawa. Hundreds of kanals of private land of Donipawa residents is held by the army in Fatehgarh and high-ground areas adjacent to the Karewa there.
Mohammad Shafi Bhat and his brother are owners of 14 kanals of land that is under the army’s occupation. After his land was occupied, Bhat waited for several years hoping that his land will be vacated. But after army soldiers thrashed some villagers who had dared to visit their land, Bhat lost all hopes and learned tailoring to ensure his family’s survival.
“Thank God I make a good earning out of this (tailoring profession),” Mohammad Shafi said, “but there are scores of people who are doing menial jobs to earn their living.”
In 2003, landowners had moved court seeking removal of the army from their land or rent in lieu thereof. They stopped pursuing the case in 2005 after armysoldiers beat up and injured several villagers who had tried to force their entry into their land.
In 2008, villagers formed a committee to plead a case for rent to be provided to the affected families. “It was only after we formed a committee that we were able to prepare the revenue file of the occupied land,” said Ghulam Mohiudin Bhat, who heads the committee.
In August 2011 the committee submitted its file to the Defence Estates office. “Even six years after submitting our file that is attested by the revenue department, there is no response from the army. The file is pending with the office of the Northern Command (of the army),” Bhat said.
“For the past twenty-five years we have been begging for the return of our land or rent for the same. There can be no worse oppression than this,” Bhat said.
Another landowner, Ghulam Mohiudin Mir, whose 15 kanals of land are under army occupation, said that the army had ruined his life. “Imagine how much profit 15 kanals of fertile horticulture land would have given me in twenty-five years. This is the height of lawlessness that the army is not even ready to give us rent for our land,” the aged Mir said, adding, “Despite being landlords, we have been virtually made beggars.”
Srinagar-based defence spokesman Rajesh Kalia refused to comment on the matter and sought some time for confirming the details. “I don’t have any idea of which land you are talking about. You text me the queries and I will confirm the details from the department concerned,” Kalia told Kashmir Reader on Sunday.
When contacted again on Monday, he did not respond to repeated calls from this correspondent.
An official of the revenue department said that the details of the land under army occupation have been shared with the defence estates department. “There was some dispute between army and landowners about the quantum of land. We have shared the fresh figures with the army and they have assured to pay the rent on all the proprietary land. I hope the cases will be settled soon,” a revenue official told Kashmir Reader.