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State land grabbed by 2 ex-ministers recovered in J&K

Choudhary Zulfikar

Srinagar: Continuing a major eviction drive on the State and Community lands grabbed by powerful people in the last 75 years, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday retrieved two major chunks of State and forest land from two senior politicians who have functioned as Ministers and Members of the erstwhile Legislative Assembly for multiple terms.

Official sources said that over 175 Kanals of prime State land retrieved in the Jammu district on Monday included 3 Kanals of prime land which had been illegally occupied by the senior Gujjar leader Choudhary Zulfikar at Chowadi. Sources said that Zulfikar had raised a banquet hall and an Elementary Teachers Training school at the same premises. It was fully retrieved and a signboard was installed at the site.

Choudhary Zulfikar has represented Darhal constituency of Rajouri district for three successive terms for Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party from 2002 to 2018. He functioned as a Cabinet Minister in the PDP-BJP government from 2015 to 2018. Zulfikar subsequently resigned from the PDP and joined Syed Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party. In politics, Zulfikar succeeded his father Choudhary Mohammad Hussain who functioned as MLA for over 40 years and also as a Minister of State in Farooq Abdullah’s government in 1998-2002.

The Revenue Department officials also vacated State land measuring 89 Kanal 1 Marla in Sohanjana and Murarpur villages of Tehsil Mandal. State land measuring around 60 Kanal was retrieved by Revenue officers at Village Gandharwan in Jammu’s border area of Akhnoor. This is a prime state land, just 3 Km from Akhnoor- Poonch Highway.

Officials said that 23 Kanals of State land was also retrieved in the village Nardi of Tehsil Maira Mandrian during an anti-encroachment drive.

Sources said that over 13 Kanals of the J&K Forest Department’s land had been grabbed by the senior mainstream politician Taj Mohiuddin near Sedhav in the South Kashmir district of Shopian. The Forest Department made several attempts to retrieve this land in the last few decades but failed. The issue triggered hot political debates in the Legislative Council and at least on one occasion, Chairman Amrit Malhotra constituted a House Committee to investigate if the senior Gujjar leader had illegally occupied a patch of 13 Kanals and 16 Marlas in the midst of a forest cover.

Taj Mohiuddin maintained in the erstwhile Legislative Council and Assembly that the area in question was his bona fide proprietary land which he had lawfully acquired. Since the House Committee failed to establish any irregularities in the land acquisition, the politician continued to retain its possession. On Monday, however, teams of the Revenue and Forest Department removed the fencing and demolished the disputed private structure deep inside a Forest compartment. It was subsequently given into the possession of the Forest Department.

An influential Gujjar leader, Taj Mohiuddin has represented the Uri Assembly constituency for two terms and functioned as a Cabinet Minister in the PDP-Congress and the NC-Congress governments of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar Abdullah. He also functioned as General Secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee for a long time. An owner of multiple properties, Taj Mohiuddin comes from a very influential family of politicians, senior Police officers and bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, National Conference vice president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, PDP President and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and the Peoples Conference Chairman and former Cabinet Minister of the PDP-BJP government, Sajad Gani Lone, held press conferences separately at New Delhi and Srinagar. They said that the Lieutenant Governor’s administration was creating a situation of chaos and turmoil and making the poor peoples’ life miserable by demolishing their houses and means of livelihood.