Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kashmir's Land Mafia: Cause and Effect

To see the land mafia at work, just take a trip to Pahalgam - two related articles

Tame the Land Mafia

With the onset of arms uprising the entire administration in Jammu and Kashmir got paralyzed and government machinery was rendered lifeless. Those at the helm took full advantage of unaccountability and began grabbing and selling the state assets, particularly government land, through a well-established network or mafia. Lakhs of kanals of state land were occupied, which resultantly also added to the sky-rocketing of prices of real estate in the state, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years the land-mafia have spread their tentacles in the entire state. No wonder that state has the distinction of having witnessed an unprecedented increase in the real estate prices, even during the last couple of decades of political turmoil and related violence here, which is in quite contradiction to the ‘established fact’ that real estate prices witness steep downfall in the conflict region. According to a research on Mid-East, house prices have continuously fallen for the simple reason that buyers do not buy for the fear of violence. But in Jammu and Kashmir, the situation has practically been other way round.

There is a dire need to tame the land-mafia by retrieving the public properties from their clutches. The conduct of these rogue elements is doubtlessly more serious than ordinary and petty criminals. These rogue elements have been posing themselves as white-collared persons and have found safe havens in political parties or have even forayed into the Fourth Estate to shield themselves while gulping and guzzling public property. Now that the government is contemplating a bill to save arable agricultural land from being misused for non-agricultural ventures, it is time when it should also wage a war against those who have preyed upon the state land. Thousands of kanals of state land including the agricultural tracts, the ‘kahcharais’ (local grazing grounds in the countryside) and particularly the forest land have been illegally occupied. While some influential people have managed to affect mutation of the revenue records to “legally” transfer this property to themselves and their kin, others are just holding on to these properties by sheer misuse of law of the land or through other means.

The land-grabbers, supported by people at the helm until now, have become powerful and dangerous. Former Chief Minister is on record to have confessed that the land mafia and other occupants have grabbed 13 lakh kanals of state land costing billions of rupees and that for the state government it is a gigantic task to retrieve it back. No doubt that the elements responsible for this loot and scoot have established strong networks and have managed to intrude into political, social, commercial and media circles in order to hide their original identities, which can make the task even tougher for the government, however, nothing should stop the government from taking action against anybody, howsoever powerful he/she may be. Once the job is done, the government, besides identifying such elements and retrieving the state property should come up with a broad-based policy in order to check such happenings in future. The challenge ahead is certainly very daunting, however, given a political will to weed out the unscrupulous, it doesn’t take much to go against the unruly. And the political dividends of such an initiative at the popular level are certainly worth the only risk it has -- of annoying a powerful political constituency of land-grabbers who besides in politics are also active in other spheres of public activity in the state. (Kashmir Images Editorial)

Unabated Constructions Pose Threat to Pahalgam Ecology

Khalid Gul (Greater Kashmir)

Pahalgam: Despite the Supreme Court ruling clearly prohibiting any construction in wildlife sanctuaries, people with strong political connections and “big babus” are carrying out constructions in prohibited areas of this famed tourist resort in south Kashmir.

“From last many years many influential people and bureaucrats have encroached upon the forest and wildlife land in Pahalgam, not only ravaging the fragile ecology of this tourist resort but also causing the disturbance to the natural habitat of the wildlife,” sources told Greater Kashmir.

They said the construction of hotels and huts are galore in the C-16 Zone of Mammal wildlife sanctuary, put under permissible zone in the Master plan of 2006 to “benefit the cohorts of top bureaucrats and politicians.”

“These highly influential people in connivance with the officials of wildlife and Forest department plunder the natural wealth by resorting to ruthless chopping of trees and using the same timber for construction of illegal structures. Thus creating ecological imbalance and disturbing the habitat of wild animals,” sources added.

They said that many people have also constructed tin sheds and dumped construction material there. “Similar constructions have come up in D-1, D-2,D-3 and D-4 zones of Khilan upto the Langnaie bridge. Though, in the Master plan the construction should be 150 feet away from the Lidder river but it violates it too, thus polluting it,” said an official.

In the Aru wild life zone locals allege that hundreds of Kanal of land have been encroached upon by many influential people with the “tacit support” of Wildlife, Revenue and PDA officials.

"At Aru you will see many big patches of land in the wildlife zone having been encroached upon by many influential people. While as the Wildlife and PDA officials watch as mute spectators, said locals.

“Many officials of PDA, Forest, Wildlife and Revenue departments, who have been posted there at some point of time have themselves encroached upon the land at Mammal, Aru and Langanbal and have raised concrete structures,” sources said.

“There are as many as 600 Gujjar families living in the wild life protected sanctuaries of Aru and Overa. These families occupy nearly 426 square kilometers. This area cannot be vacated till these families are provided some alternative location,” a top wild official told Greater Kashmir.

He said that as per the directions of the Supreme Court and the state wildlife protection act this tribal community can neither sell nor lease out the land, provided to them for shelter purposes.“ Even if the government intends to construct a road there it has to seek the consent from Supreme Court at the instance of National Wild Life Advisory Board,” he added.

The official however, said that many influential people have succeeded in acquiring these ‘Gujjar Kothas’ and have constructed huts and hotels there.

He also accused police and officials of Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) of supporting some influential people to undergo construction in the wildlife zone. .

When contacted Regional Warden, Wildlife Kashmir, Javaid Ahmed said, “Mammal zone was earlier a hutment area but after it was declared a sanctuary a status quo was maintained. However, the demarcation process is on and where ever we find violations we act against them.”

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