NC violating Ladakh Council Act: Congress
10 November 2001
Leh: The Congress in Ladakh has accused the National Conference government of violating the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act that stipulates that all land in the council’s area stands transferred to it.In the eye of the storm is a Bill passed by the Assembly on 27 September amid Opposition walk-out. Mr Tsering Dorjay, Congress MLA from Leh — traditionally a Congress stronghold — said the land transfer Bill would hit Ladakhis and parts of Jammu the most where the ruling party has almost negligible presence. The National Conference’s argument is that the Bill, tabled by the revenue minister, Mr A Quayum, last year, became necessary because revenue was needed to generate electricity in the state which suffers from an acute power shortage. Since the Bill had drawn flak, it was referred to a select committee, which cleared it with minor modifications. Significantly, even some NC MLAs from Jammu had protested against the Bill, according to which anyone occupying government land till 1990 will have to pay the market price. Else, their land could be auctioned by the government. Many in Ladakh argue that this is unfair because those cultivating such land have invested much money, time and energy and they’ve been encouraged by the state’s rulers to occupy and make fertile such land in the past. The Maharaja’s Ailan No 25, nullified 10 years ago, had given the option to the landless people of Ladakh to cultivate barren state land. Anybody who made such land cultivable, could after a certain period become the owner. Ladakh essentially has a subsistence economy. But of late, because of an increase in population, there is pressure on land. Many people had occupied government land and made them cultivable, said Mr Dorjay. He argued the Bill wouldn’t effect Kashmir valley because there the government was eager to sell land to permanent residents. Hardly any land is occupied in there. Ten lakh canals are illegally occupied in the state. Mr Dorjay said the government should make an exception for the mostly landless people of Ladakh who occupy such land. They are not in a position to pay the market price. The Bill doesn’t distinguish between urban and rural areas. It doesn’t state that those who cultivated land in the command area where canals were built could be exempted from the market rate. The Egu-Phey Canal has a command area of 1 lakh canals distributed among landless individuals or families who were given 16 canals each. “A landless individual or family cannot pay Rs 16 lakh.” The market price for each canal (20 marlas) is Rs 1 lakh. One marla is roughly 25 yards. The state has a command area department and the Centrally-sponsored Desert Development Agency which are supposed to give land for cultivation as an incentive to make cultivable largely barren land, which the government normally distributes free.