For 70-years prime properties in Jammu and Kashmir were leased out to a few influential families at throw away prices and they earned crores due to the favours extended to them by the erstwhile political regimes.
Recently, the government repealed the Jammu and Kashmir Land Grants Rules, 1960 and the Notified Area (All Development Authorities set in Tourism Sector) Land Grants Rules, 2007.
It notified ‘New Land Grants Rules’ 2022, extinguishing all the previous rules on the subject thus ending the hegemony of influential and powerful people over the state land.
According to the notification, all the outgoing lessees, except in the case of subsisting and expired leases for residential purposes, would immediately hand over the possession of the land taken on lease to the government, failing which the outgoing lessee shall be evicted.
An empowered committee headed by Financial Commissioner Revenue and comprising officials from different departments would identify and designate land and the purpose for grant of the lease. It would also recommend the period of grant of lease, which shall ordinarily be for 40 years.
The committee would also monitor every lease agreement entered into and the conditions thereof. The panel has also been empowered to recommend cancellation of any lease.
New land rules have brought every J&K resident on equal footing. It has ended the era of privileges which the kith and kin of influential people enjoyed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Politicians in the past went out of way to favour the ones who were connected to them in one or other way by leasing out state land to them and then turning their possession into ownership by introducing schemes like Roshni. The beneficiaries were even given the possession of Forest and Nazool land.
However, after August 5, 2019 — when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J&K’s special status and divided it into two Union Territories — many steps were taken by the Prime Minister’s Office to ensure that every J&K denizen is treated equally. Directions were passed to the J&K administration to prepare a list of the influential people who have acquired state land against peanuts.
The exercise carried out by the J&K administration revealed that a select class of people had grabbed whatever they could by using their influence. The land allotted to this class of people for residential purposes was used for commercial purposes and the beneficiaries earned crores.
Prime land was leased out at Gulmarg and Pahalgam to the selected business families in Kashmir and they continue to hold that land despite the lease period ending long back.
According to the laid down rules the beneficiaries have to surrender the land after the lease period expires so that it can be auctioned and the highest bidder gets the possession.
The ‘New Land Grants Rules’ 2022 have made it clear that the lessees whose lease periods have expired will have to handover the possession to the government and if they have spent any amount to modify the property it will be paid to them.
The terms are clear that the expired lease periods won’t be extended. There would be an open bidding as per the present market rates so that everyone gets an equal opportunity to stake a claim.
The new land rules are aimed at ending the unfair concessions that were given to a few people who used their close proximity with the power corridors to get their way. Such acts of the political rulers had pushed the common man away from the system.
The government’s move to hold the influential accountable is yet another step towards addressing the alienation that J&K people witnessed due to Article 370, a temporary provision in the Constitution, being in vogue for seven long decades.
After the scrapping of this provision many skeletons have tumbled out of the cupboards leaving the common man in J&K bewildered. He has understood how the former rulers misled him and promoted only those people who were a part of a coterie or were kith and kin of the leaders of the political parties that ruled Jammu and Kashmir from 1947 to 2018.
Transition a blessing
J&K’s transition into a Union Territory has proven to be a blessing for a common man. Steps that have been taken during the past 3-years have brought a common man close to the system. The VIP culture has ended and every J&K resident is being treated equally. The democrats, who acted like monarchs, have become irrelevant.
Ones who used to brag about their strong political connections and get anything done have been held accountable after the Centre’s 2019 decision to change J&K’s status-quo. They are being asked how they accumulated wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income.
The land grabbers, who built empires, due to the favours that were extended to them by their political friends and bosses, are finding it hard to hold on to the properties which they had acquired through some means.
Many people who wanted to set up small or big business ventures in famous places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam were not able to get even a single inch of land as a select and favoured business groups are paying only Rs 600 per kanal per year as rent. And they want to pay the same rent forever. What an irony!
According to Srinagar-based daily, Greater Kashmir, the lease deeds lying with the Gulmarg and Pahalgam Development Authorities reveal that despite getting prime land practically free, elite businessmen as crony capitalists have violated all the terms and conditions mentioned in the lease. “These agreements were limited to building a residential house. In violation of the condition, it was further sublet several times and the property changed hands. The last man in this chain has, in many instances, brazenly violated the original condition and created commercial properties such as hotels and restaurants,” the daily quoting the government sources reported.
Land for all
The ‘New Land Grants Rules’ 2022 state that the land could be leased for education, healthcare, agriculture and allied activities, tourism, skill development, development of traditional art, craft, culture and languages, hydro-electric projects, development of stadiums, playgrounds, gymnasiums or other recreational purposes, petrol pumps, gas pipelines, LPG bottling centres, fuel reservoir, next-generation clean fuel sources CNG, CBG, LNG, hydrogen fuel, low carbon fuel, any other clean fuel source with related activities, services, utilities, infrastructures as per the established norms and industry best practices, self-employment.
The new rules state that land can be leased for housing purposes of ex-servicemen, war widows, families of deprivation categories (as per the latest socio-economic census), specially-abled persons (Divyang), families of security personnel who died in the line of duty, migrant workers and building and other construction workers, rehabilitation of sufferers of natural disasters and calamities, specific infrastructure projects for the development of infrastructure, industries, agriculture, tourism and employment generation, laying of water mains, pipes, underground cables, causeways, underground bridges, cables, towers, poles, stay rods, stay rails for overhead cable and likewise. As per these rules, the land can be leased for any other purpose in the interest of J&K to be determined by the government.
In a nutshell the government has thrown open the state land for all. Anyone, who is interested can approach the authorities and stake a claim. The J&K has been thrown open for all by ending the culture of elites running the show and minting the money.
The government’s policy is clear that the old land laws were regressive and were not framed with the interests of the people in mind. The changes which have been made would benefit the common man and make him an equal stakeholder in building ‘Naya Jammu and Kashmir’.