The farmers and land-owners whose land is being taken for the Srinagar Ring Road project are demanding fairer compensation under the The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 instead of the repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act, 1934.
THE Supreme Court has issued notice to the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government in a special leave petition (SLP) challenging the compensation granted for acquisition of land for the Srinagar Ring Road construction project.
A division Bench of Justices A.S. Bopanna and Sanjay Kumar passed an Order to this effect on an appeal moved by aggrieved land owners from Wathoora, district Budgam, J&K.
On November 16, 2022, a division Bench of the J&K High Court had directed authorities to pass a fresh award in Srinagar Ring Road construction, but the assessment of the compensation was to be made as perJ&K Land Acquisition Act, 1934 (Samvat 1990) which has been repealed post the de-operationalisation ofArticle 370.
The aggrieved petitioners had contended that the award passed by the collector had lapsed due to efflux of time as the government is supposed to pass an award within two years from the date of issuance of notification under Section 6 of erstwhile JK Land Acquisition Act Samvat 1990.
In its November 16, 2022 Order, the high court had said:
“The collector, land acquisition shall pass a fresh award qua the petitioners only and for that purpose shall construe August, 11, 2020 (date of final award) as the relevant date for determination of market value but shall apply the yardsticks for assessment of compensation provided under the [Samvat] 1990 Act in respect of acquired land of the petitioners only.
“The collector shall calculate other statutory benefits on such amounts including interest to be calculated and determined by taking into consideration the date of taking over possession, i.e., March, 13 2018.”
The Supreme Court Bench in its Order condoned the delay in filing of the SLP and issued notice to the respondents (government of J&K and others).
The counsel for the petitioners, senior advocate Anitha Shenoy requested that National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) be impleaded as party in the case and the Bench allowed it.
The government of J&K has also not adhered to the provisions of the high court Order and have preferred to challenge the Order in the Supreme Court through an SLP of its own which is yet to be listed.
The Ring Road project in Srinagar, also called Srinagar Semi-Ring Road, was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019.
There are two such projects in J&K aimed at decongesting traffic in the cities of Srinagar and Jammu.
In Jammu, the land acquisition process has been completed. Around 400 acre (3,200 kanal) of land has already been acquired for a 58-km highway. Work on the project is underway.
Affected farmers have been denied fair compensation as the proceedings were undertaken under J&K Land Acquisition Act, 1934, which is a carbon copy of the IndianLand Acquisition Act, 1894, which was replaced by RFCTLARR Act in 2013. In addition, stamp rates in Jammu district are very low.
The Srinagar Ring Road is a ₹2,000 crore project. Around 600 acre (4,800 kanal) of agricultural land is going to be acquired for a 62-km highway connecting Pulwama with Ganderbal via Budgam.
About 70 percent of the land for this project has been acquired in Budgam district.
Affected people, especially the farmers in Budgam and some other districts, have been demanding fair compensation since 2017 under the banner of Ring Road Land Owners Welfare Committee.
In the past, state laws complicated the process of land acquisition. However, after the revocation of the special status under Article 370, the government could have invoked RFCTLARR Act, which became applicable to J&K from October 31, 2019 to ensure people got compensated fairly.
But no such fairness has been bestowed upon the affected farmers and small land-owners.
The counsel of the petitioners have pleaded before the Supreme Court that the land acquired in Wathoora has a market value of ₹1 crore per kanal.
The government has paid them at the rate of ₹38 lakh per kanal, plus 15 percent jabirana (solatium).
The petitioners have contended that they can get ₹4 crore per kanal under the RFCTLARR Act.
“We were not satisfied with the Order of the high court. In fact, the government did not implement it as well.
“By virtue of the high court Order, we would have got 30–40 percent more compensation but we want 400 percent more compensation, for which we are eligible under the Central law which has been extended to J&K after the end of J&K’s special status post August 5, 2019,” the petitioner Gulzar Ahmad Akhoon told The Leaflet.
The notification issued under Section 6 of the repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 lapsed automatically in many villages of Budgam district as the awards could not be prepared within two years from the date of issuance of a notification under Section 6 of the Act.
Subsequently, the deputy commissioner, Budgam sought instructions from the divisional commissioner, Kashmir, to initiate fresh proceedings under the RFCTLARR Act.
“The government did not act upon his instructions. In fact, he was transferred from Budgam,” said Ghulam Nabi Bhat, a senior member of the Srinagar Ring Road Land Owners Welfare Committee.