End of crony capitalism, nepotism, favouritism; land reforms to provide level playing field: Govt

Kashmir Inc feels decision will hurt economy, mixed response in political circles
Representational Image
Representational Image File/ GK

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir government has deemed the New Land Grants Rules, 2022, advantageous for the commoners while the thousands of lease land occupiers say the decision has landed them in a pickle and cast doubt on their future economic prospects.

The new Land Grant Rules, 2022, which will require all departing lessees to turn over possession of leased land to the authorities, have drawn the ire of stakeholders particularly the business community of Kashmir, which has urged the government for its rollback.

The administration said that the replacement of earlier "regressive legislations" with the new land laws will help ordinary people.

What Kashmir Inc thinks

The main business organisation in Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), announced on Thursday that it had a meeting with a number of trade organisations, hotel and restaurant owners, and other stakeholders to discuss an order issued by the government's Revenue Department regarding the land lease.

A statement of KCCI issued here said that the delegation “expressed their sorrow over this ruling and spoke about its adverse impact on the life and employability of people in J&K”.

KCCI President Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad promised that the government would be made aware of the worries of all the business sectors and requested senior administrative officials including Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to look into the situation while taking into account people's livelihoods.

“The current administration claims to be working to eradicate unemployment. They ought to consider whether this decision might cause a spike in unemployment,” Ahmad said.

Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Hoteliers Club, Mushtaq Chaya said, “This law surprised us in a big way. By paying a premium, we are asking the government to prolong the term of our lease. But regrettably, these rules were enacted, which will harm our economy and cause lakhs of people to lose their jobs."

He said that the government should take into account that during the 32 years of turmoil, Kashmir's business community only suffered losses.

“Majority of hotels that received lease land by taking part in auctions 40 years ago are yet to break even on their investments. This is really harsh. We request LG Manoj Sinha to take our requests into consideration," Chaya said.

He said that while they were willing to pay premiums to extend their lease terms, auctioning off these properties was undesirable because this type of rule was not in effect in any other region of the country.

KCCI Secretary General Farooq Amin said that the chamber on Thursday met a number of parties affected by the new law.

"We had a conversation with them, and we believe that it will hurt our economy. We will start seeking meetings with government officials from tomorrow onwards in an effort to have our complaint about the land lease law resolved as soon as possible," he said.

What Govt says

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Wednesday said the new land lease rules notified by the administration would benefit the commoners.

"The (old) land laws were very regressive and not framed with the interests of the people in mind. The changes which are necessary for benefiting the common man are being made," Sinha said on the sidelines of a function.

The LG was responding to a question about the J&K administration’s decision to notify new land lease law under which all the outgoing lessees, except in the case of subsisting and expired leases for residential purposes, would immediately handover the possession of the land taken on lease to the government, failing which the outgoing lessee would be evicted.

According to the sources in the government, the narrative being created around the new land grants-related law was that “it is another step up in tightening the level and nature of India’s oppression of Kashmiris”.

They said: “It is was being maliciously projected as a kind of an outside invasion to bring in chosen businessmen from outside J&K to settle down and corner economic opportunities and benefits at the cost of the local businesses.”

However, the government sources said: “Notwithstanding these machinations, it is widely believed by the people that prime land which was priceless in terms of commercial value has been given away at dirt-cheap prices, practically free to select business persons. Notion that select and favoured business groups are paying only Rs 600 per kanal per year in Gulmarg is widely prevalent among the people who have failed to gain access to business opportunities because of refusal of previous local governments in providing a level playing field is equally strong. But persons who know the nuanced truth are voiceless and cannot match the money power and the clout of the vested interests. Many say that the details can be obtained from studying the lease deeds lying with the Gulmarg and Pahalgam Development Authorities.”

They said that many people say that it should be noted that despite getting prime land practically free, these elite businessmen as crony capitalists had violated all the terms and conditions mentioned in the lease.

“The nature of the violations is egregious. For example, the lease condition, in many cases, stipulated that the lease purpose is 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 government sources said.

They said that when the governments give away prime properties without any competition, without any transparent procedure to a handful of favoured persons on pick and choose basis, it’s a double whammy - an increase in corruption, nepotism and favouritism as well as limiting a larger economic growth that was otherwise possible had the game been played according to set rules that are transparent and publicly known.

What politicians feel

Commenting on the issue, National Conference (NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah said that the right to renewal or refusal of lease orders must be given first to lease holders as they had invested in it.

He said that it seems that the government just wants to snatch properties from the leaseholders who had invested on it to accommodate non-locals.

Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari described the new land laws as “draconian” and “inhuman” and said these laws would not stand scrutiny of the law.

However, he asked the political parties not to make it a big issue for their petty political interests.

Bukhari urged those affected by laws to come forward, explain their position, and get their problem solved on merit.

He said they should not wait and expect others to plead their case.

Peoples Conference (PC) President Sajad Gani Lone tweeted that the new land policy was not at par with the rest of the country.

“It may well start the dark chapter of now blatantly othering the Kashmiris. Lease rules across the world and in India are fairly simple and on similar lines. But these are different and not without motives,” he tweeted.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Seh Prabhari J&K Ashish Sood said that making rules and regulations for granting of land and other revenue issues was the right of the government of the land.

“For all these years Muftis and Abdullahs have been granting land to their stooges for their own benefits. They have been exploiting the treasury, which was causing huge lose to the exchequer. Now when policy in which these lands will be awarded in a transparent manner, these people are frustrated as their vested interests are being hurt. In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime the state property and state resources will be utilised transparently for the good of the economy of the state and for the good of the people of the state rather than the good of few families. So the three families will feel frustrated when transparent laws are brought to force,” he said.

What is Land Grant Rules, 2022

Under the provisions of the new rules, all outgoing lessees will have to hand over possession of land to the government that they had taken on lease where leases have either expired or were determined prior to rules as 'not to be renewed'.

The Land Grants Rules 2022 state, "All the outgoing lessees (except in the case of subsisting and expired leases for residential purposes) shall immediately handover the possession of the land taken on lease to the government, failing which the outgoing lessee shall be evicted as per the provisions of public premises (eviction of unauthorised occupant) Act, 1988".

However, the rules state that the outgoing lessees shall, however, be paid for any improvement carried out or structure constructed thereon at the value assessed as provided under Sub-Rule (xi) of Rule 13 provided that the lessee has not violated any of the conditions of the lease.

The new rules say: "All leases (except the subsisting /expired residential leases) including lease granted under the Jammu and Kashmir Land Grants Rules 1960, Notified Area (All Development Authorities set in Tourism Sector) Land Grants Rules, 2007 and leases expired or determined prior to the coming into force of these rules or issued under these rules shall not be renewed and shall stand determined."

However, the government may for the development of J&K grant a lease of land under the provisions of these rules.

The rules 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 say 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.

The rules state that an empowered committee headed by the Financial Commissioner of Revenue and comprising officials from different departments would identify and designate land and the purpose for the grant of the lease.

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