Srinagar/ New Delhi, April 4: The Centre today raised the rent of land occupied by the army in Jammu and Kashmir to make military occupation of farmland more remunerative and dilute the impact of the demand for a complete pullback of troops.
But the generous hike — in the range of 2.1 to five times — did not satisfy farmers or the Peoples Democratic Party, which had last year backed Pakistan President Pervez Musharrafs suggestion that the state should be de-militarised.
Tens of thousands of our trees have been hacked or are lying unattended. Who will compensate for that? said Abdul Karim Sheikh, an apple orchard owner spearheading the campaign to retrieve their lands.
M.K. Mohanty, director-general of police, civil-military liaison, said security forces occupy 4,26,700 kanals — 20 kanals form a hectare — in the state, including private and government land.
Figures presented in the Assembly two years ago, however, showed that forces occupy 6,81,839 kanals of government land alone. The army has not released its figures.
Most of the good quality land in the state is in the apple zone of Sopore-Rafiabad-Baramulla where militancy is also high.
While the ratio of the rent hike looks big — 200 per cent to 500 per cent, as one defence ministry official put it — in terms of value it may not be as lucrative for the owner of the land.
The rate for the most fertile (irrigated double-cropped) land has been increased from Rs 1,688 to Rs 4,087 per kanal per year. For fruit-bearing orchards, the rental has been hiked from Rs 1,575 to Rs 10,000 per kanal per year. In the municipal areas of Jammu, Srinagar and Poonch, the rent has been hiked from Rs 6,750 to Rs 33,750 per annum.
But Sheikh said this was poor compensation for loss of livelihood. In a good year, he could earn up to Rs 40,000 from a kanal. It takes decades to come up with an orchard, the apple orchard owner added.
The PDP had linked the de-militarisation demand to a sensitive economic issue — the occupation of orchards by the army. Today, party general secretary Nizamuddin Bhat said: Although the hike will benefit farmers, it doesnt meet our actual demand. They should vacate all the private land and government offices…. Our position is unchanged.