Understanding J&K's 'land for landless' plan minus the political rhetoric

IANS Photo

By Deepika Bhan
IANS | July 10

Who are the landless, houseless people? This is the raging debate in Kashmir after the UT administration came out with the decision to provide homes and land to thousands of homeless, landless people in J&K.

Before the abrogation of Article 370, the general notion was that no one was roofless and none slept hungry. Houses of all sizes and quality existed and community bonds were such that no one died of hunger or from the lack of care. The government had minimal welfare schemes for the common and poor people. The population was composite.

To own land in J&K, nativity used to be the only criteria. Hence those who came from outside could not become land owners. And there was this clear distinction between a 'local' and an 'outsider' that was deeply ingrained over the decades with the 'separatist' kind of politics covertly and overtly played by Kashmir-based parties invoking Articles 370 and 35A.

It took 75 years for refugees from the erstwhile West Pakistan living in J&K to get land rights and be able to vote in the local elections. The Valmikis living in J&K were among the worst victims of human rights violations in the old state. Sixty-three years after their arrival as 'sanitary workers' on the request of the then state government, members of the community were given their dignity only after the abrogation of the Article 370 in August 2019.

The Kashmir-based political parties have always been accused of engaging in divisive politics and furthering agendas. The gravest was revealed during the forced exodus of minorities, the Kashmiri Pandits in particular, from the valley. None of them raised their voice against the Pakistan-based militants who unleashed terror against the minorities.

The politicians also stand accused of helping to settle Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshi nationals. As Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti confirmed in the J&K Assembly in January 2017 that as many as 5,700 Rohingya Muslims and 322 other foreigners were living in the Jammu and Samba districts of the state.

"They have entered the state on their own and are staying at various places in the two districts," she had said in a written reply to a question from BJP MLA Sat Pal Sharma.

There were, however, reports then that more than 13,700 foreigners, including Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshi nationals, were living in the Jammu and Samba districts. Local politicians have often pointed fingers at Kashmir-based parties, accusing them of settling illegal immigrants in Jammu to enable demographic changes.

The first batch of Rohingyas entered India in 2012 and they were followed by a steady stream of more refugees. How a large group of these Rohingyas and Bangladeshi immigrants traversed several states to reach Jammu, where they were allowed to settle down, by the then state government is the question now being asked in political circles in J&K?

After the L-G administration's decision regarding the landless and homeless, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and others are now raising the 'outsider' issue to create a scare among the people.

National Conference vice-president and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah has asked the government "to clear the doubts" and identify the homeless. "Who are homeless? How are they categorised? Those who came here after Article 370's (reading down) should not be included,” he said.

People's Conference chairman Sajad Lone said it would be prudent for the administration "to make it clear whether providing land to the landless and homeless includes only erstwhile domicile holders, that is, (those who were around) pre-5 August 2019."

Mehbooba Mufti, however, has been the most vocal. "The total homeless people in J&K are 19,000 according to 2021 data. When the L-G says two lakh will be given land and homes, that means around 10 lakh people... Jammu will be the first to bear the cost of this settling of outsiders.

"Jammu is dependent on business, but the L-G administration wants to bring 10 lakh people in the name of [giving shelter to the] homeless from outside. They will snatch the business of Jammu people and want to increase (the BJP's)votes.”

Reacting to her, the J&K government said that the former Chief Minister's statements "are factually incorrect" and added that she had "no understanding of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme".

Doing away with the special status of the state has not only opened it, but also ensured that central schemes come directly to the UT. After surveys, the government has established the extent of poverty and detected lakhs of homeless and landless people.

PMAY (Grameen) Phase-1, which started on April 1, 2016, identified 2,57,349 houseless people in J&K based on the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data of 2011, and the government, after due verification by Gram Sabhas, sanctioned 1,36,152 houses.

"Per unit assistance of Rs 1.30 lakh is provided per house by the Government of India under the scheme. Minimum size of the house prescribed is 1 marla. The government conducted Awaas+ survey during January 2018 to March 2019 to identify those beneficiaries, who claimed to have been left out under the 2011 SECC," said a detailed press statement from the government.

The statement also says that the survey was based on the following criteria to determine who were the houseless: those living in zero-, one- or two-room kachha houses; those houseless persons who did not have land or a clear title to a plot of land, or own land where construction is not permitted.

Based on the field survey, out of 1,99,550 respondents, 2,711 were identified as those who don't have clear land title. The government has gone a step further and allotted five marlas of land to these poeple so that they can get houses.

Such schemes were unheard of in J&K before the abrogation of Article 370. As hundreds of central schemes never found their way into the erstwhile setup, the people, especially the poor, did not have access to development schemes. Now, post the abrogation of Article 370, several sections in the UT benefit from these schemes.

The government has made its intentions clear, but the political parties are accusing it of settling outsiders in the garb of the scheme.

Hitting back at them, L-G Manoj Sinha said: “It has caused pain to some people. Those who have built their houses, and their relatives' houses on state land, feel only they have the right to the government property and the poor people should be stopped from using the government property. ... They should know that such an arrangement has ended. The system of discrimination ended on August 5, 2019."

The government is trying to nip in the bud the politics being played on the plight of the poor. But the fact is that the list of landless and houseless people, which is with the government, is creating a sense of apprehension.

The Kashmiri Pandits, who have lost their homes and land in the valley, meanwhile, are also asking about their rehabilitation.