Jammu: Lawyers protest Art 370, want registration powers back

Arun Sharma
Lawyers protest on HC premises in Jammu Monday. Express Photo by Arun Sharma

For over a fortnight now, lawyers have brought work at the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and subordinate courts in Jammu at a standstill over transfer of powers to register documents from judicial to revenue officials, as part of Central rules that apply now to the Union Territory. At the helm of the protest — the first such in the Jammu region against measures emanating from the abrogation of Article 370 — is senior BJP leader Abhinav Sharma, who is also president of the J&K High Court Bar Association.

The protest is drawing attention elsewhere in the region, with a delegation from the Sam ba Bar Association joining the striking lawyers on Monday. Samba Bar Association president Subash Singh Samyal said, “Lawyers in Samba district too are on strike. If this is the benefit of creation of the UT, it is not acceptable to us.”

The proposal to set up a Department of Registration under the Revenue Department was cleared on October 23, with the intention of providing hassle-free and speedy service to people for registration of documents, including immovable property. Earlier, judicial officers handled the registration and revenue officials played a more minor role of authentication and cost estimation of plots to determine the registration fees.

Now, from acquiring land documents to their registration, the process has come under one roof. Besides, revenue officials are available at the tehsil headquarters, while to meet judicial officials earlier, people had to visit district headquarters.

Getting documents registered is a major source of revenue for many lawyers, especially at the beginning of their careers. The number of documents daily registered at courts across Jammu province ran into thousands, said B S Slathia, former president of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association.

Earlier too, when J&K was a state, successive governments had tried to transfer powers of registration of documents from judicial to revenue officials, but the lawyers had always blocked it.

The lawyers have claimed “rampant corruption” in the Revenue Department as one of the reasons for their opposition. The bar is also objecting to a proposal to shift the high court building from its current location in Jammu city to a forest area, 10 km away, alleging that thousands of trees would have to be cut.

On Monday, a delegation of lawyers met Financial Commissioner, Revenue, Pawan Kotwal, who has been designated ‘Inspector General Registration’ by the UT Administration.

BJP leader Abhinav Sharma said they had been told to give the demand in writing, adding, “We have already given a letter in this regard to the Lt Governor.” Asked why there had been no response, Sharma said, “I do not know. They may be getting instructions from the Union Home Ministry.”

Computerised registration is set to roll out from November 30.