Valuable land in Kashmir Valley continues to be under illegal occupation of people, most of whom purportedly wield a good influence within government circles. The officials have even admitted before the top court, common to J&K and Ladakh, that large chunks of land, especially at Gulmarg and Pahalgam, continue to be under than unauthorized occupation of the people.
In other words, precious public property continues to be exploited for commercial purposes by people without payment of a single penny towards use and occupation charges or damage.
Jurisprudence is vastly available on the subject in the context of leases, expired leases, rights if at all of lessees and manner of disposal and grant of rights to private persons in public properties at prime locations.
As has been pointed out and rightly so, the public exchequer is being exposed to tremendous loss and damage by the government by their dilatory tactics and their failure to take action with regard to public property.
The courts including the Supreme Court of India have repeatedly enjoined upon the State machinery to protect the land from encroachers and illegal occupants. The disposal of the State Land can only be by a fair, transparent, and open process.
It is important to note that public interest is the paramount consideration and one of the methods of securing it, when considered necessary to dispose of a property, is to sell the property by public auction or by inviting tenders. There may be situations where there are compelling reasons necessitating departure from the rule but then the reasons for it also must be rational and should not be discriminatory.
The top court has also underlined that the State is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. The public at large is the beneficiary of these resources including forests and ecologically fragile lands. The State as a trustee is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources. The resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership.
The issue regarding the framing of policy regarding expired leases is pending for decades together in the J&K. The government needs to take the decision sooner in the context as the public exchequer is being exposed to tremendous loss and damages by the official inaction.