Land Appetite

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As investment emerges as the new buzz word post August 6, Corporate India and various state governments are keen to acquire land in Jammu and Kashmir.

Coincidently, the day Governor Satya Pal Malik’s first advertisement about the benefits of Article 370 scrapping adorned the newspaper front-pages in Srinagar, there were multiple reports appearing in non-local media indicating an appetite for land in Jammu and Kashmir. Corporate India apart, the requirement for land was felt by some states also.

“In scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35A, we saw an opportunity and accordingly the idea of opening up resorts in Ladakh and Kashmir was discussed at the MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation) meeting,” Indian Express quoted Maharashtra tourism minister JaykumarRawal, saying. “He also stated that the issue was also briefly mentioned during the state cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The detailed proposal is yet to be put up before the cabinet.”

Details revealed that MTDC board, in its August 28 meeting, decided to allot Rs1 crore each for setting up the resorts in Srinagar and Ladakh. MTDC plans to buy land in Pahalgam and Leh. “It was decided in the meeting that we should buy two parcels of land – one in Ladakh near Leh, where we would have a resort-cum-mountaineering institute, and the other in Jammu and Kashmir, the location for which is not yet decided, but would preferably be near the airport and the railway station,” Moneycontrol quoted Rawal saying. “There was a suggestion by some experts that Pahalgam Road in Srinagar could be one location, but no decision has been taken on this.”

The minister revealed further: “We are in a hurry to finalise before October 31. Once the board decided on August 28, the executives have to implement and they have started implementing it. We are expecting a letter from the (Maharashtra) Chief Minister at the earliest. I have already written to the chief minister. If we can get some government property also, we can consider that. It is a matter of time, the money is there, we find the place and buy. It can happen as soon as possible. I have given them (the team) a maximum of two weeks to go and visit the place. The team is planning to visit (Jammu and Kashmir) in six or seven days. We want to finalise the parcels preferably before October 31.”

Explaining the options, the minister said that the government is looking at several options for the deal: government properties where it pays the ready-reckoner value and buys the land, properties held by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation, or even land that belongs to private parties. The idea is to set up a resort having a mix of Kashmiri and Maharashtrain cuisine and culture. The MTDC wants to hire local consultants. “We will be hiring locals as guides,” Rawal was quoted saying.

Insisting that the resorts “will be a great opportunity to generate employment in for the Kashmiri youths”, according to Rawal, The Wire said the BJP government sees the move as one of its “biggest achievements”.

Almost on the same day, the Karnataka government also made its plans public. The state government said that it intends to build a hotel and tourism centre in Jammu and Kashmir. “Karnataka would seek land from the J&K government for this purpose,” Indian Express quoted Karnataka Minister of Tourism C T Ravi saying.

Maharashtra government’s keenness could be an outcome of the efforts that BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta made during his stay in Mumbai. The Jammu politician had interacted with the Maharashtra Chief Minister,DevendraFadnavis, besides the state ministers for finance and tourism. According to Hindustan Times, Gupta was in the tinsel town since August 31, as part of BJPs month long nationwide contact programme to highlight the significance of centre’s decision to scrap the Article 370.

“The region needs investment from the leading business players in every sector to generate employment for the local youth besides restoring its glory with modern amenities and infrastructure,” Gupta was quoted telling his hosts in Maharashtra.

At the same time, some business groups have also flagged their requirements.

Bhupendra Kumar Modi, the founder-chairman of Smart Group, has announced the setting up of Overseas Citizen of India Investment Fund (OCI) with a fund size of $100 billion to carry out his plan of bringing together industrialists from across the world to boost investments in Jammu and Kashmir.

“OCI will start investments in Kashmir region by developing 100 global wellness hotels followed by investments in real estate,” Modi was quoted saying. “Other key sectors of investment will include healthcare, real estate and education.”

The reports said that BK Modi would take his OCI members to meet the Prime Minister and discuss the investment.

There are various projects under different stages of formulation that would require land. Greater Kashmir reported the plans of a major project aimed at creating a ‘mother city’ involving nine districts and 312 villages. It will be spread over almost half a million kanals of land. Such a mega project would require lot of land for creating diverse facilities.

Interacting with a group of Sarpanchs, whom Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Baseer Ahmad Khan accompanied to Delhi on September 3, Home Minister Amit Shah said that “only government land would be used to establish industries, hospitals and educational institutions”.He told the delegation that “nobody’s land would be taken away”.

Meanwhile, in Srinagar, S Sikandan, adviser to governor, has convened a meeting on September 9, to discuss the issues related with the state land and the custodian land in the state. The entire land resource available with the state government is facing encroachment and most possibly this might be the main emphasis of the meeting, according to sources.

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