Outcry across J&K after army gets land in Gulmarg and Sonamarg

Outcry across J&K after army gets land in Gulmarg and Sonamarg

The corps commander, as per the order, has been asked to ‘ensure strict adherence to environment laws’, which is a customary directive

The Jammu and Kashmir government has handed over to the army a big chunk of land in tourist favourites Gulmarg and Sonamarg, triggering allegations that the erstwhile state was being turned into a military garrison.

A government spokesman said 1,358 kanals (around 170 acres) of land had been notified as “strategic areas” in the twin tourist hotspots, effectively handing it over to the army.

The army already holds vast chunks of land in the fledgling Union Territory, including at its famed tourist destinations, and the fresh transfer has touched a raw nerve in the Valley.

In October last year, the central government had issued a controversial notification allowing outsiders to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir and giving the government the right to declare any place as a “strategic area” for direct operational and training requirements of the armed forces.

An order issued by the tourism department recently said 1,034 kanals of land in Gulmarg and 354 kanals in Sonamarg had been notified as strategic areas by the authorities after exercising powers under the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act.

The corps commander, as per the order, has been asked to “ensure strict adherence to environment laws”, which is a customary directive.

“The Corps Commander shall ensure that no other applicable law in force in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is observed in breach,” the order read.

This is the first such notification since the October notification announcing the changes in land laws.

The government said the notified “strategic areas” were within existing armed forces land, implying the army was already in possession of land, which has now been legalised.

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the government was not even sparing tourist spots and that the move had confirmed fears that the centre was trying to turn Jammu and Kashmir into a military garrison.

“Under the ‘state land’ pretext, our land is up for grabs and, to add insult to injury, locals are being evicted from their homes,” she said, apparently referring to reports that locals had been told to vacate forest land in recent months.

CPM leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami urged the government to review its decision.

Gulmarg is a world-famous ski resort in north Kashmir while Sonamarg is an equally captivating resort in central Kashmir.

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

“The need of the hour is to develop tourism infrastructure in Kashmir which can generate employment for the burgeoning numbers of unemployed youths. So-called real estate development by the government can’t generate employment or create livelihood opportunities,” he added.

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