Nearly 6.85 lakh square metres of land (170 acres) in Gulmarg and Sonamarg in Kashmir will soon be declared “strategic areas”, allowing armed forces to utilise these areas for “operational and training” purposes.
The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has provided its sanction to declare more than a thousand kanal (a traditional unit of land area measurement) in Gulmarg and 354 kanal in Sonamarg as “strategic areas”.
A government notification points to a request by the corps commander to utilise this land.
In July 2020, the administration had withdrawn a 1971 circular that required a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the J&K home department for acquisition or requisition of land in favour of the army, Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force and “other similar organisations”. Such acquisition has since been covered under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
In the same month, the administration had also approved an amendment to the Control of Building Operations Act, 1988, and J&K Development Act, 1970, providing special dispensation for carrying out construction activities in “strategic areas” by armed forces. Friday’s news is the first time such an order has been issued since the amendment came into force.
The order granting land in Gulmarg and Sonamarg to the armed forces places the condition that “the corp commanders shall ensure strict adherence to environment-related laws to prevent any environmental hazard”. Additionally, the forces must ensure that “no other applicable law in force in the Union Territory of J&K is observed in breach”.
Former chief minister and PDP president Mehooba Mufti said that the move to allocate thousands of square metres to the armed forces, that too in tourist areas, “confirms GOI’s intention to convert J&K into a military garrison.
CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami also called for a review, and said there are already many 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,” he said.