In the much publicized Public Interest Litigation highlighting encroachment of State Land by the powerful land mafia in league with Politicians, Revenue Officials and Police Officers, a Division Bench of the State High Court comprising Justice Alok Aradhe and Justice Tashi Rabstan in a significant order modified para 9 of an earlier order dated December, 10, 2014 passed by the then Division Bench headed by Chief Justice M.M. Kumar (since retired) whereby the Division Bench had directed, “that this Court being the Custodia Legis, directs that no petition or other litigation shall be entertained by any other forum and the same should be listed before the First Division Bench” and today in the open court while modifying the said order the Division Bench permitted the aggrieved persons/encroachers to avail the remedies before the statutory authorities including those constituted under J&K Land Revenue Act.In a jam-packed court the Division Bench after hearing Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed with Advocates Irfaan Mohd. Khan and Rahul Raina appearing for the petitioner whereas Senior AAG Seema Khajooria Shekhar and Deputy AG Ahsan Mirza appearing for State Government, Advocate O.P. Thakur with Advocate R.K.S Thakur, Senior Advocate M.A. Goni with Advocate Mumtaz Choudhary, Advocate A.M. Malik, Advocate Surinder Singh appearing for aggrieved persons/encroachers also directed that the revisional/appellate authorities under the local laws shall dispose of any such revisions/appeals expeditiously particularly within a period of two months.
When this much publicized PIL came up for hearing Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed submitted that State Government lacks political will to proceed against the land mafia as politicians, bureaucrats and some police officers have encroached big chunks of state land and both Divisional Commissioners Jammu and Kashmir have confirmed the encroachment of more than 20 lakhs kanal of state land by the powerful land mafia.Advocate S.S. Ahmed further submitted that the Division Bench has issued numerous directions to the Chief Secretary and both the Divisional Commissioners to suggest the mechanism to the Court so that appropriate directions for retrieving the State land be issued in a time bound manner. Advocate Ahmed further submitted that in order to shield the big sharks who have encroached thousands kanals of state land, the eviction drive is deliberately targeted against poor people/ nomads having 2 to 5 kanals of state land and thereafter the entire drive gets derailed in view of massive public outcry. He further submitted that under the garb of court orders the poor persons are sought to be evicted and this scuttles the entire drive against the influential persons. He further submitted that the petitioner had filed the PIL against land mafia not against the poor persons/ nomads. Advocate O.P. Thakur who had filed an application (MP No.1/2017) on behalf of one Balwant Raj S/o Rakha R/o Gole, Jammu against whom an eviction notice for encroachment of state land measuring 32 Kanals 4 Marlas falling in Khasra No.746 situated at Village Gole, Tehsil West District Jammu had been issued by the Tehsildar, Jammu West, sought modification of order dated December, 10, 2014 passed by the Division Bench and vociferously argued that in view of the ongoing PIL before the Division Bench the aggrieved Balwant Raj has been rendered remedy less as no subordinate statutory authorities are entertaining the revision/appeal as in the notice itself there is a reference of the instant PIL.
Advocate O.P. Thakur submitted that the aggrieved persons/ encroachers are entitled to statutory remedies under J&K Land Revenue Act and they cannot be deprived of such rights under law.
Senior Advocate M.A. Goni with Advocate Mumtaz Choudhary also buttressed the arguments of Advocate O.P. Thakur who had moved a motion for modification of the order dated December, 10, 2014.On the other hand Advocate S.S. Ahmed appearing for the petitioner resisted the arguments of Advocate O.P. Thakur and submitted that it has taken six years for the State Government to identify the encroachers and that too when the Division Bench intervened in the matter. He further submitted that in case the order dated December, 10, 2014 is modified then the entire eviction drive against the powerful land mafia will be derailed as the subordinate revenue agency is directly under the control of political establishment and the revenue officers will sit over the matter for years together thereby perpetuating the illegal act of the encroachers. He further submitted that a public cause is involved in the instant PIL and the same will be defeated with the prayer sought in the motion filed by Advocate O.P. Thakur.After considering the heated arguments from both the sides the Division Bench headed by Justice Alok Aradhe modified the order dated December, 10, 2014 and directed that the aggrieved persons can avail the remedies provided before the statutory authorities including those under J&K Land Revenue Act. At this stage Advocate S.S. Ahmed requested the Division Bench that some time frame may be fixed for the statutory authorities so that the matters against eviction are decided expeditiously. The Division Bench in view of the submissions of Advocate S.S. Ahmed directed that the revisional/appellate authorities shall dispose of the matters within a period of two months. The Division Bench further directed the Registry to list this PIL in the first week of April, 2017 in view of the earlier orders issued on February, 22, 2017. (CNS)