Land mafia poaches agri-land of Chamb refugees living near Indo-Pak border

Pallavi Sareen

Jammu, Oct 28: Living on the Indo-Pak International border has its own consequences but for 1971 Chhamb refugees, life has become virtually hell as the land which was allotted to them by Jammu and Kashmir government has two more claimants, a local who is selling the land and the other Defence Ministry, which decides about portion of land available to them for cultivation.

“The land on which a soldier dies is priceless but the land on which a farmer dies is worth nothing?” asks Sunita Sharma, a displaced refugee from Chamb.

The Chamb refugees have been living near the Kanachak Border Outpost for the past 48 years and the livelihood of all 300 families living in the region depends entirely upon the agricultural land. In 1971, these refugees left Chamb and settled in Jammu where J&K government allotted them 4 acres irrigated land or 6 acres unirrigated land per family for cultivation and settlement.

In the year 2001, as decided by the Govt of India, border fencing was done and the Chamb refugees lost Kanals of land for which they received no compensation. The refugees, mostly illiterate did not know their right to be compensated for the land which was under their ownership. Some of the families lost the entire 4 acres of land that had been allotted to their family while others lost portions of their land during the border fencing.

When the refugees came to know of the project to further secure the border with the construction of a “bandh” extending to 158 ft, they realised that they were about to lose their livelihood entirely. Even since they have been running from pillar to post for compensation.

“The amount of compensation has been released from the Central Govt. but the revenue officials are making this more difficult than it should be. We never got compensation for the 2002 fencing but now that our entire lands will be taken away, we asked for our livelihoods to be secured. Yet, there is a land grabber named Nischant Singh Katoch who says that he is the owner of the land and so he should be compensated,” said Kuljeet Singh who lost 20 kanals of land due to border fencing.

The refugees alleged that a person named Nisschant Singh Katoch claimed to be the owner of the land and the revenue officials allegedly have agreed to release compensation to him instead.

“We have never seen that person in the village. Never heard his name in the last 48 years. We have all the documents with us, even Intekaal, after which the land belongs solely to us. But how then, suddenly this man becomes the owner? When we were allotted this land, the J&K government headed by Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah had given the order that if any local’s land was allotted to us refugees, the right on that land will be ours and the locals will be given land somewhere else. If he did not get land elsewhere, then that is between him and the government. We are still the landowners of this land. Then why are we not being compensated?” said Mohan Lal, whose entire 72 kanals of land was lost during border fencing.

Another refugee alleged that the man had not claimed to be the owner in the past 48 years while they were using the land for agricultural purposes or even when the border fencing was done, seventeen years ago. But now since the compensation for the land lost due to construction of ‘bandh’ is to be released, he is claiming the land as his.

What further aggravates the pain of these refugee farmers living near the border is that for the past three years, they have not been able to harvest the crops they have cultivated as the defence forces refuse to let open the gates for them.

“A person who has never been here cannot understand the fear of living on the border, the constant fear of shelling, leaving home in the middle of the night to find shelter. Yet, we work here under such circumstances and live here too. This is a farmer’s government, right? We are farmers and we have lost our land, our means of survival to a land grabber. What will the government do for us? We have gone to the SDM, written to the Divisional Commissioner and yet nothing. Leaders only come here to ask for votes and then forget about us refugees living on the border. We are the ones who stay here along with the army. The land on which a soldier dies is priceless but, the land on which a farmer dies is worth nothing?” said Sunita Sharma, a Chamb Refugee.

Sources reveal that four or five families in the village have gotten compensation for their land already.

“The matter is of five plots. They are the ones who have suffered the most with entire lands lost. The rest have also not received compensation for the land undertaken by the army during 2001 border fencing. Back then, we did not even know we would get compensation. But now with this bandh, we will have nothing. Our children do not have government jobs. They are all unemployed. Only 5-10 would have a job elsewhere. They study despite terrible circumstances near the border and yet are overlooked when it is about government jobs and now we will lose our land too. This seems to be forcing us to the last resort of self-immolation,” said Ved Prakash, a Chamb Refugee who lost 48 kanals of land.

He further said, “Already we lost our homes during 1971 and now instead of understanding our pain, the revenue department and the leaders keep on giving us assurances. Nothing comes out of these assurances.”