Agri Land Being Converted With Impunity, Says High Court

11 April 2014
Greater Kashmir
DA Rashid

Srinagar: Expressing concern over the inertia on part of the concerned authorities to stop conversion of agriculture land for commercial purposes in the State, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Friday said the violators have been 'changing the land with impunity.' Observing a remiss on part of the Revenue officials to take action against the violators, a division bench of the High Court comprising justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice Hasnain Massodi said 'they are not taking a timely action against the violators.' 'The Land Revenue Act, J&K Alienation of the Land Act and other applicable acts empower the authorities to stop the conversion of the land and take action against the violators which they are not doing,' the bench observed while hearing a Public Interest litigation seeking halt on conversion of agriculture land for commercial purposes in the State. Observing the status reports of the Deputy Commissioners as unsatisfactory, the division bench held that 'we have seen certain reports wherein it is mentioned that there are number of violators and notices have been issued against some, but what happened thereafter is not reported.' Seeking implementation of all directions it passed from time to time with regard to the issue in letter and spirit, the division bench directed all the deputy commissioners of the State to file fresh status reports, indicating in tabulated form the number of violations noticed and action taken, if any, against the violators. The court impressed on all Deputy Commissioners (Collectors) to ensure that all revenue authorities at different levels take stern action against the violators and file action taken reports. The court said in case no action is noticed to have been taken by the concerned revenue officers of the area, they shall be personally responsible and answerable for the consequences of their inaction. In its earlier directions, the court had observed that the compliance reports by the deputy commissioners indicate details of the unauthorized conversion of agriculture land but did not indicate action taken under law for removal or demolition of constructions on the land. On April 15 last, the High Court had directed government to come up with a detailed report within one week on the steps taken by it for stopping conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes. The Government was also directed to inform the Court about its plans to accommodate the increasing population in their respective districts on modern lines by planning innovative integrated housing projects. The Deputy Commissioners were asked to ensure provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Revenue Act were implemented in letter and spirit. Due to random conversion of agriculture land, the State Government in 2011 decided to bring a law to ban the practice. However the law is yet to see the light of the day. In Kashmir alone, more than two lakh kanals of agriculture land of the net sown or cultivated area of 3.5 lakh hectares (70 lakh kanals) has been converted for commercial and other purposes, a report prepared by the Agriculture Department in 2011, revealed. The situation is no better in Jammu region, it said. The state government in February this year informed the Legislative Council that it was a fact that due to increase in population, coupled with fragmentations in joint family system, the housing needs have increased manifold and with the result the agricultural land is being converted for residential purposes. 'However, there is a provision in the Agrarian Reforms Act that a person can hold land up to 2 kanals for residential purposes and half a kanal can be used for a gharat or chakki or shop, or for such other purpose relating to rural economy, without obtaining any permission,' Minister of State for Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation, Ajaz Ahmad Khan had said, replying to a question. An NGO, Human Watch International, has filed the PIL against the conversion of agriculture land into residential housing colonies in violation of law including J&K Land Revenue Act, J&K Agrarian Reforms Act and other laws.