The Jammu and Kashmir government's decision to lease out land to the non-state subjects for the construction of hotels, restaurants and other tourist-related facilities at the virgin Dhobighat in Gulmarg has caused alarm in the valley.
Right from hard-line pro Pakistan leader Syed Ali Geelani to moderate Shabir Ahmad Shah and the mainstream National Conference leaders, a severe sense of insecurity is sweeping across the valley, and a common refrain is that the "sale of land is a part of hidden agenda to change the demographic character of the state".
The most panicked reaction came from Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest terrorist group operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Gazi Misbahuddin, the Hizb chief commander, on Tuesday warned that the non-state subjects would have no guarantee of life and property if they indulged in "land grabbing in Kashmir".
The State Subject Law does not allow non-state subjects (who are not permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir) to purchase land or immoveable property in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the Land Grants Bill passed in late Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah government in 1978 allows the government to lease out the land to outsiders for 99 years.
The present PDP-Congress government, early this year, decided to lease out the land to the non-state subjects for the construction of hotels and restaurants to promote tourism in the state.
The state cabinet on October 17 approved the auction of 560 kanals (70 acres) of land through an authorised auction committee to the bidders at Gulmarg.
"Sale of Kashmir under any name is unacceptable. We will not allow even one inch of our motherland to be sold to any outsider", Hizb chief commander, in a statement, said. "Any person or party (who are non-state subjects) who will acquire land and property here on lease or in any other name will have no guarantee of life and property", the Hizb commander warned.
It however was Syed Ali Geelani, who first stirred the hornet's nest. Geelani alleged that a conspiracy was being hatched to repeat Palestine in Kashmir.
"Just as the Israelites grabbed the land of Palestine first and later threw the local residents out, a similar scene is being created in Jammu and Kashmir",
Geelani alleged. He said that the Army and other security agencies were occupying around 3 lakh kanals of land in the state, "and leasing more land to outsiders is aimed at changing the population character of the state". "It is a matter of life and death for us. We cannot take it kindly. We are forming a strategy and will protest against it", he said.
Shabir Ahmad Shah, chief of Democratic Freedom Party, said that Jammu and Kashmir was disputed, and no outsider should be allowed to buy land in this region. He said that on one hand the government of India was talking of confidence building measures (CBMs) and on the other, it was indulging in conspiracies to strengthen its grip here. "This needs to be tackled in a united and tough way. We should cut across party lines and unite to undo this move", he said.
The opposition National Conference also seemed quite worried over the issue. Dr Mahboob Beg, provincial President of the National Conference and MLA, said that leasing out land to outsiders was a hidden agenda of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayed. He said that to facilitate the leasing of land to non-state subjects, Mufti, during his tenure as chief minister made amendments in the state subject law and Land Grants Act. He alleged that Mufti was misleading the people under the guise of self-rule. He asked the people to come together against these machinations and reject the slogans like self-rule.
The government, however, has maintained silence and is yet to react to the criticism.