Book review – Pieces of earth: The Politics of land grabbing in Kashmir

BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION
Author: Peer Ghulam Nabi Suhail pp194
Print publication date: 2018 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2018
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199477616.001.0001

Over the years, few scholars in Kashmir and those writing outside India have moved away from the structural side of the Kashmir conflict and have argued that Indian rule in Kashmir is nothing less than an occupation. It is in this context, that “Pieces of Earth” investigates the specter of capital in the form of resource exploitation in a disputed land of Kashmir. Situating the case of land grabbing in Kashmir in the global land grabbing studies, the book pinpoints the inadequacy of the existing studies to explain land grabbing in conflict areas.

It takes Kishanganga Hydro Electric Plant (KHEP) in Gurez Valley, near the Indo-Pak border as a case study, Peer describes the land and water used for its construction and power generation as an epitome of land grabbing in Kashmir, investigates politics in its process, identifies the role of various actors and beneficiaries, and maps the multifaceted impacts of resultant dispossession and dislocation on peasants and ecology and the economy of Jammu and Kashmir. However, the spectacular fact about the book lies in the use of methodologies. It is an interdisciplinary study and draws heavily from political economy, development studies, and resistance studies. The book highlights the predicament that the Indus Water Treaty creates for the people of J&K. Following water rights that this treaty confers on the Indian state, it has ever since deployed its agency, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), to construct several dams on its rivers, therefore, dispossessing people from their land and water rights. Given this particularity of the Kashmir case, any developmental agenda in Kashmir, Peer notes, is seen as an effort (here the case of NHPC) by the Indian state to siphon off resources from the Kashmir, as an ‘act of imperialism. 76 percent of the total assets of NHPC is located in J and k, while its generation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is only 24 percent of the total generation.  Peer raises an interesting question, “has it come here to occupy our land or doing of some serious business. It can be gauged from the fact, that the NHPC has earned 194 Billion rupees in Kashmir between the years 2001 and 2015, while the government of J&K is earning 12 percent royalty on its land. (RTI 2016). This act is seen as an “act of occupation.

Land grabbing in Kashmir is not simply an act of economic coercion or neoliberal policy, as in the Indian mainland, it is compounded by political and military coercion which complicates it manifold.  Grabbing and control of private lands in Kashmir by the capital deconstructs the global notion that “prevention of land grabbing requires constitutional enshrinement of specific property rights.. The government acquires land despite the ownership over it through the overarching provision of public purpose. The violent wave of ‘appropriation of common resources by the capital for its survival in its new form like water which was outside its ambit, has become a battlefield for the new round of accumulation.

Cases of Badwan & Khopri, remote villages in the Gurez Valley, as presented by Peer, suggest that land grabbing may take place even in those places with recognized individual land rights already in place, and even in areas where land reforms have been successful (such as India, Brazil or China). While the government and corporations look at this dispossession through a compensation lens, peasants see their estrangement from their lands, cultures, and traditions. The book essentially specifies the nature of land grabbing in Kashmir as a state-led-grabbing for market forces, unlike in mainland India where it is neo-liberal in orientation, which epitomizes capitalism and imperialism. in a conflict zone such as Kashmir, the story of capital in disputed territory.

As far as the scope of Peer’s study is concerned, the tiny research sample (of nearly 570 households) used in the study is objectionable and scant.  As such Peer leaves off substantive cases of land grabbing in J&K. Lands in J&K are grabbed equally by the army which is in illegal possession of ten lakh kanals of land.

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