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Ring Road in a Suspended Animation !
5/12/2019 9:18:23 PM
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

PM Narendra Modi during his visit last year inaugurated several infrastructural projects in J&K . PM who was on a two-day visit to the state last year laid foundation stones for Srinagar and Jammu ring roads projects. Modi inaugurated the Srinagar ring road project at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) Srinagar while as the foundation stone for the Jammu ring road project was laid at General Zorawar Singh Auditorium in the University of Jammu. The Union transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and the then Chief Minister (CM) Mehbooba Mufti were also present on the occasion. When Modi was busy inaugurating the Srinagar Ring Road project a large group of farmers were protesting in Lal Chowk against payment of very meager compensation. More than 9 months have passed since the inauguration of these projects but not even 1 % of the work has been executed especially in Kashmir valley. The company which was allotted the contract has also suffered a lot. They are waiting for last more than a year but the whole process of road construction seems to have got derailed.
Before the PMs visit, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Baseer Ahmad Khan took a detailed review of the status of the land acquisition process for the construction of Srinagar semi-ring road project in his office a week before the said visit. In the said meeting Divisional Commissioner was informed that all districts, except Budgam, had transferred their land to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) while as the remaining 30 % land in Budgam was to be transferred within "three" days.
Instead of 3 days, more than 12 months have elapsed , most of the land in Budgam district is yet to be transferred to NHAI. Jammu ring road project is also marred by chaos and confusion, with the result the whole project has been send to the deep freezer by the authorities. There are multiple reasons for this delay. Government of India didn't release another instalment of funds. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) made a communication with Chief Secretary in this regard. In addition to it farmers affected by the Srinagar Ring Road particularly those affected in Jammu, Budgam and Srinagar had been protesting over the issue as the compensation that NHAI was paying to them was far less than the market rate of land. From last almost 6 months the process of payment of compensation has been stalled and not even a single kilometer of the work from Pampore to Ganderbal via Budgam has been taken up. It seems Governor administration is not ready to address the grievance of affected farmers with the result both the Ring Road projects in Kashmir valley and Jammu are in a state of suspended animation.
Problem in land transfer
The Collector Land Acquisition Budgam district has already prepared awards for payment of compensation last year . In-fact around 40 to 50 % of the affected farmers have been paid 80 % compensation of the land acquired from them . How much has been paid to them is again debatable issue as majority of the farmers are not happy with Government's land acquisition policy. There are many farmers who are yet to be paid the compensation in Budgam and Srinagar districts. Last year around November when I sought details of the awards prepared and compensation disbursed to farmers under J&K RTI Act 2009, the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) who is also Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Budgam didn't respond at all. Instead the Collector Land Acquisition / Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) provided me a copy of information wherein he denied to share the details under RTI.
Denying Information
On March 20th 2019, J&K RTI Act 2009 will complete 10 years of its enactment. Even after 10 years of enactment of this pro people law, the Government officials in J&K continue to violate it. Is it is deliberate attempt or ignorance of law ? In both the cases Government is at fault. After 10 years if PIOs or senior Government officers are ignorant of RTI law, the same can't be justified. If they are deliberately trying to conceal the information, the Government officials doing so need to be taken to task. Framers affected by Ring Road are fighting the battle at multiple fronts that includes judicial intervention as well. The High Court Division Bench few months back disposed off our Public Interest Litigation (PIL) wherein Government had been directed to adhere to the provisions of suo-moto disclosure of information under section 4 of State RTI Act plus creating massive RTI awareness as mandated under the section 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009. By not making disclosures about payment of compensation to affected farmers in Budgam and other districts, it seems Government is not even respecting the RTI Act and the orders of the High Court vis a vis implementation of JK RTI Act 2009 . We have no option but to file a Contempt Petition before the court of law now. Through an RTI petition in November 2018, I sought copies of "Awards" prepared for land acquisition coming under the alignment of Semi Ring Road in six villages of Budgam district. The awards have already been finalized as the payment has been made to most of the affected farmers. I also sought certified list of land owners in whose favour compensation money has been credited. I sought details of exact amount credited into each beneficiary account and amount of land acquired. I also sought certified copies of re-assessment made by Horticulture department on the Hon'ble High Court direction in the case of Ghulam Mohammad Bhat V/S State of Jammu & Kashmir. The Public Authorities especially Revenue Department and all the DC offices were supposed to make voluntary disclosure of all this information their respective official websites under section 4 of JK RTI Act 2009 and as per the High Court direction but this hasn't been done at all. Even when the same was sought under RTI , it was turned down. Where shall the affected farmers go now ? Does Government want some farmers should commit suicide and then only authorities will wake up ?
The aggrieved farmers have every right to know how much compensation has been paid to similarly situated fellow farmers in order to project their own case for grant of enhanced compensation ? It is worthwhile to mention that across Jammu & Kashmir affected farmers are crying for payment of fair compensation and rehabilitation as per central land acquisition law (RTFCLARR 2013). Last year in Budgam district some awards were prepared as per the market value of land and compensation was paid to many farmers ( around 40 to 50 % ) but after the Governors rule, rest of the awards were prepared as per the stamp rate which is 3 to 4 times less. How can Government pay compensation 3 times or more to a group of farmers and a large number of similarly situated farmers are kept waiting and forced to take 3 to 4 times less compensation. In Jammu district there is again a huge disparity between market rate and stamp duty rate. In some areas like Malikpura , Marh , Kangrail and other villages, the market value of land in 10 to 15 times more than the stamp duty rate. Framers are forced to accept very meager amount as compensation. We tried to persuade Government at highest level. We met with Chief Secretary twice. During 6 months of Governors rule the obsolete land acquisition law in J&K was not repealed . After the Presidents rule was clamped, we are told that Governor can't enact new land acquisition law as he has to seek concurrence of President and Union cabinet. If other issues like giving reservation to people living near International Border can be taken up with President and Union cabinet, why can't Governor plead the case of affected farmers of J&K especially those affected by Ring Road in Srinagar and Jammu ? Why is there is a disparity in payment of compensation to farmers in J&K and other states ? Why shall an 85 year old obsolete law be enforced on farmers of J&K ?
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