Five weeks after a meeting to discuss possible eviction of the Kashmiri Colony in Sector 29 and other labour shelter tenements in two areas of the city, the estate office appears to be going rather slow, given that it is a potential flashpoint. The eviction plan was on the drawing board after J&K's assistant labour commissioner (ALC) in Chandigarh had sought ouster of the "encroachers".
The ALC claims that the houses and single rooms were meant as night shelters and leased to the J&K government, but these 85 dwelling units are instead housing entire families of workers from Jammu and Kashmir and others since the 1980s. The houses have even been rented, and sold too on mutual deed in at least one instance that came to light after a clash.
In a letter to the deputy commissioner-cum-estate officer on April 25, also sent to the UT home secretary and the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), east, J&K ALC Parveen Kumari had underlined that "not only have the workers overstayed by years but some have even handed over possession of the houses to non-J&K natives". She also cited a 2012 order of the Punjab and Haryana high court that had held the stay of the workers and families as illegal.
SDM (E) Danish Ashraf had held a meeting early May with the enforcement staff to plan the next course of action. The first step was to be a public announcement seeking voluntary eviction. However, residents planned to fight it out.
Sources said a meeting on the issue would be held in the coming week at the estate office where officials could mull the technicalities of the claimed lease, and also the ground reality and "complications with removing families forcibly from an established colony".
Bashir Ahmed Khan, 65, an auto driver and also vice-president of NGO J&K Hindu-Muslim Ekta Manch in the Sector-29 colony, said, "We Kashmir native have been residing here for two decades. We even got the houses renovated after the ALC and the staff brought us here for rehab. We even have power meters in our names."
At present, after modification of the houses, over 200 families live in the flats. On paper, there is a rent of `100-1,000 a month but it's rarely paid. These units include 60 two-room flats in Sector 29, another 16 in Bapu Dham Colony, and 10 single rooms in Sector 26 transport yard. One of the flats in Bapu Dham Colony was gutted in an accident and 85 remain "encroached". The J&K ALC says action has to be taken by the UT. "We have been writing letters,"she told HT. SDM Ashraf remained unavailable for comment.
"We got the houses with the nod of the J&K ALC, who has to explain. We are ready to pay the 1984 rates if the estate office wants that ownerships be established,"commented JS Rathore, one of the 18 non-Kashmiri families staying at the colony and also a BJP leader.
There was litigation by the Kashmir natives that started in 1987, and it was in 2010 that a local court refused to give relief to residents. Their petition in the high court was dismissed in 2012 by a double bench, saying, "In the absence of any letter of allotment or conveyance deed or other document in favour of the petitioner, it would be difficult to uphold the right of continued possession…"
The HC had added, "There may be hardship involved in the eviction process or humanitarian issues involved, yet it is for the UT administration, as owner of the property, to consider the feasibility of carrying on with the purpose of the quarters as a sarai for migratory labour from Jammu and Kashmir in the background of further exodus from the Valley over the years. This is, however, a question of policy and … [it] may yet formulate a policy where genuine and bona fide needs of migrant labour are temporarily met."
As for non-J&K residents, they too are fighting a legal battle to first determine who owns the flats.