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PIL on Agri land conversion
How was CEO SDA given key posting: HC to Govt
SRINAGAR, July 10: The High Court directed the government to file response to an application filed by an NGO questioning the appointment of Mohammad Yousuf Bhat as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sonamarg Development Authority (SDA).

As the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on conversion of agricultural land between Shalteng and Narbal came up for hearing the petitioner filed a CMP seeking directions of the Court to government on appointment of CEO SDA, and an ‘illegal’ construction in Ganderbal.

The petitioner said the CEO SDA is facing a case of corruption for which the government has already granted sanction for prosecution in 2009 but officer is presently holding a key posting in Sonmarag.

According to Mohammad Ishaq Qadri, Advocate General Jammu and Kashmir High Court, a division bench comprising Chief Justice M M Kumar and Justice D S Thakur asked the government to file response to this application within two weeks. The court has also sought a report on a construction taking place in Ganderbal, Qadri said.

On April 2, the Court had directed all deputy commissioners of Kashmir division to file report with regard to conversion of agricultural land into non productive purposes in their respective districts.

Referring to the PIL on the subject filed by Hilal War, a political and social activist seeking ban on unlawful change of agricultural land into residential colonies and shopping malls the Court had earlier taken a strong exception to the import of rice from Punjab Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The court had also called for revision of the Srinagar Master Plan.

Expressing serious concern over Jammu and Kashmir becoming one of the major importers of rice from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh at a cost of annual capital flight of Rs 1800 crores to 2500 crores because of its food grain deficiency, the bench directed all deputy commissioners of Kashmir division to come up with statistics on the change in status of agricultural land in their respective districts. The court asked them to file compliance report within two weeks.

The court had also directed a halt on construction activities at Hokersar wetland, Shalteng, Suzeth, and Narbal.

Pertinently, while replying to a related query in the recently concluded budget session of the state Legislative Assembly, minister for agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir admitted: “there are also instances where illegal conversion of agricultural land has taken place.” He had said the government is armed with effective tools like Land Revenue Act, Agrarian Reforms Act, Prohibition on Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act that regulate conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes. “There is a provision under the J&K Agrarian Reforms Act for conversion of land for construction of residential houses up to two Kanals without seeking permission from the competent authority,” Mir had said.

However, according to a survey conducted by the Agriculture department, it has come to fore that Srinagar district has now only 4219 hectares of agriculture land, while the total cultivable area stands at 5444 hectares. Officials in the Agriculture department say that an earlier survey had revealed Srinagar has 4767 hectares of agriculture land. “It means that around 500 hectares of agriculture land has been converted for construction of residential and commercial establishments,” they said.

The farmers here believe that the government is sitting over this serious issue. “The state government if serious to protect the agricultural land from conversion should do something concrete. But the pace with which the new colonies are coming up on agriculture land in different parts of the Valley exposes the tall claims made by the government in this regard,” a farmer said while talking to Kashmir Times.

News Updated at : Thursday, July 11, 2013
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