SRINAGAR: To clear land for establishing an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), 250 families of the Gujjar community are being forcibly evacuated from about 1200 kanals of land by the administration of Vijaypur area in Jammu.
The Gujjars being removed from the land told Kashmir Reader that the administration is forcibly relocating them to an area that is in the middle of a river floodplain. They said that the area is much less than their original land and is not suitable for habitation.
“It has some 280 kanals of land of which a huge chunk is already damaged. The rest is prone to further damage from flood, hence not feasible for living. It would be miserable to live there. We are being given 10 marlas of land for each family, which is not even enough for our cattle. Every family here has a cattle stock of 20 to 80 in number. Keeping them in such meagre space is nearly impossible,” a Gujjar resident of Vijaypur told Kashmir Reader over phone.
He alleged that the district administration was harassing the community and deliberately targeting them, as land for the hospital was available nearby in an uninhabited area.
“The administration could have established AIIMS there without dislocating any family. Moreover, experts have cautioned over the selection of this land, for various reasons,” he said.
In August last year, the then Chief Engineer of the Central Public Works Department (NZ-V), which is overlooking the entire project, AK Garg, along with a team of officers inspected the site at Vijaypur and sent a detailed report to the Director General, CPWD, vide Letter No.23 (123)/ SE(P)/ EE(P)/ NZ-VI-07 dated August 12, 2016, pointing out several issues concerning the identified land.
“The site is approximately three meters down from both sides of the National Highway and huge earth-filling shall be required. Moreover, most of the proposed site is located in the water way/flood plain of river Devak and hence extensive river training works shall be required,” read his letter.
The Gujjar residents say they are not against the establishment of AIIMS but not at the cost of their livelihood.
“We welcome the establishment of AIIMS. But if it is for us, then why are our houses being razed to the ground? We believe the eviction is being done purely on religious lines. A few elements in the administration are longing to create divisions among communities that are living in harmony here,” said a Gujjar resident of the area.
The chief engineer’s letter further pointed out that the International Border with Pakistan was only 4 kilometers from the location, which called for examining the site from a strategic point of view by an appropriate authority.
“There is an encroachment by a large number of families and a cremation ground and this may be difficult to remove. Moreover, since the site is located on both sides of National Highway, some sort of connectivity will be required either in the form of under pass or some elevated structure to connect both the campuses,” the chief engineer’s letter stated.
The chief engineer had reportedly suggested that it would be better if some other suitable site was chosen.
Deputy Commissioner Samba, Sheetal Nanda, told Kashmir Reader that no one was being evicted from their land forcibly, but only being shifted to another site.
“People are evacuated when they own land, but in their case they don’t. The entire land belongs to the government. They are being given a better alternative than the current one,” Nanda said.
She said that she had no information about the chief engineer’s letter that pointed out concerns regarding the chosen site. “The site has been chosen after proper and well thought-out plan. A few people pointing out concerns doesn’t matter,” she said.