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Political parties react to declaring some land in Gulmarg, Sonamarg as ‘strategic areas’

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Ask government to review and revoke the order

Srinagar: Reacting sharply to the government decision to declare portions of land in Gulmarg, Sonamarg as “strategic areas”, different political parties here today called for review of this decision.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti criticised the government move, saying the allocation of huge tracts of land to armed forces in tourist areas of Jammu and Kashmir confirmed the intention of the Centre to “convert J&K into a military garrison”.

Slamming the government move, Mufti tweeted, “Allocating thousands of kanals to armed forces that too in tourist areas confirms GOIs intention to convert J&K into a military garrison. Under the ‘state land’ pretext, our land is up for grabs & to add insult to injury locals are being evicted from their homes.”

National Conference general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar while talking to media at party headquarters here said, “Our reservations about the ‘strategic areas act’ are evidenced by this reckless land transfer. We had contended that the act will be used arbitrarily to grab civilian, tourist areas and other mineral resources. The recent transfer order substantiates our detestation for the act.”

Criticizing the measure, Sagar said that the constitutional propriety demanded halt on any such measures because these are a consequence of August 05,2019 decisions, which are constitutionally suspect and awaiting the due validation from the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.

Despite India’s climate pledges, Sagar said “GoI is diverting more forest land to the armed forces. Ever since Article 370 was read down and the Union government took charge of the erstwhile state, 250 hectares of ecologically fragile land have been diverted for non-forestry purposes. This stands in stark contrast to the pledge taken by India at the recent COP26 climate summit to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the country’s forest cover.”

He contended that such wanton land transfers will make the tourist heavens of Gulmarg and Sonmarg look like a “battle zone”.

“Continuous movement of army traffic will also have a far-reaching impact on the local tourism activities in the shape of curbs. We hope that the government will review such a reckless decision. Putting our land and resources for grabs and sale on one pretext or the other is akin to adding insult to our injuries,” the NC leader added.

CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that the Jammu and Kashmir government must review its decision to declare 1034 kanals of land at the ski-resort of Gulmarg and 354 kanals in another popular tourist destination Sonmarg as “strategic areas” for the use of armed forces as these are two most popular tourist destinations in the Valley.

“There are already a lot of areas with the army for such purposes. Gulmarg and Sonamarg along with Pahalgam are three most popular tourist destinations in the Valley which need to be promoted for tourism purposes,” Tarigami said in a statement.

He said the need of the hour is to develop tourism infrastructure in Kashmir which can generate employment for burgeoning numbers of unemployed youths.

“So-called real estate development by the government can’t generate employment or create livelihood opportunities, but are only meant for giving benefits to the corporate sector,” he said.

“We hope that the government will review its decision and focus on developing tourism in Gulmarg, Sonamarg and other tourist destinations,” he added.

Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference said the decision of declaring specified land at Gulmarg and Sonmarg tourist destinations as strategic areas for the use of armed forces was an “attack on tourist and fruit industries” of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We strongly condemn this decision and appeal to the government to revoke it at earliest. This decision is aimed at destroying the tourism and fruit industries of Jammu and Kashmir under a well thought-out conspiracy to render thousands of youth unemployed,” PC senior vice-president Abdul Gani Vakil told reporters.

Vakil said thousands of tourists visit Gulmarg and Sonmarg every year as the two places are famous for their scenic beauty world-over.

“Moves like handing over specified land to the army at famous tourist destinations of the valley and making Iranian apple tax free is an attack on our major source of income. How could we remain silent on such a grave issue?” he added.

He said the government instead of handing over land to the Army should focus on development of Gulmarg and Sonmarg, so that the unemployment rate is reduced.

“I fail to understand as to why the government does this — this decision will impact hundreds of thousands of people associated with the tourism industry including transporters, ponnywalas, shawl-makers and others. Our party appeals to the government to revoke this decision immediately,” said Vakil.

Earlier, the Jammu and Kashmir government declared nearly 70 hectares of land in Gulmarg and Sonamarg tourist resorts of the Valley as “strategic areas”, paving the way for the armed forces to take control of these land patches.

The armed forces can undertake infrastructure development even in ecologically fragile areas which are declared “strategic areas” by the government.

According to an order issued in Jammu on December 31, 2021 by the Tourism Department of Jammu and Kashmir, 1,034 kanals (approximately 52 hectares) of land at the famous ski-resort of Gulmarg in Baramulla district and 354 (approximately 18 hectares) kanals in Sonmarg, another popular destination in Ganderbal district, were declared as “strategic areas” for the use of armed forces in the region.

The Corps Commander will look over strict adherence to the environment-related laws to prevent any environmental hazard and ensure that no other law applicable in the union territory of J&K is breached, the order said.

“Corp Commander shall ensure that the orders, if any, passed by an hon’ble court/tribunal in this regard, are strictly adhered to,” the order reads.

This was the first notification issued by the administration of the union territory after the amendment to Jammu and Kashmir Development Act 1970 by the Union Home Ministry in October 2020 through an executive order.

The Administrative Council headed by the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir gave its nod to the amendment to the Control of Building Operations Act 1988 and the J&K Development Act, 1970 to provide for special dispensation for carrying out construction activities in strategic areas.

As per the amendments, the armed forces can undertake infrastructure development even in ecologically fragile areas which are declared as “strategic areas” by the government.

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