Buckling under pressure from the separatist political camp and the opposition National Conference, the state government put the auction and leasing of land at Gulmarg on hold and said that it would review the cabinet decision (to grant land to non-state subjects) to remove the apprehensions of the people.
Talking to media persons in Srinagar on Thursday, Tourism minister Mohammad Dilawar Mir said, "we will not do anything which would harm the interests of the people of the state." "I believe that the interests of our people are supreme. There should be no compromise on their interests. If the people have apprehensions about leasing of land to outsiders, I will take the matter to the cabinet and we will remove these apprehensions," Mir said. "Till then the whole process of auctioning and leasing is being stopped," he said.
The state cabinet wide order—266TSM of 2006-dated 23-10-2006 approved auctioning of 550 kanals of land at Dhobighat in Gulmarg to state subjects for construction of hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related infrastructure for the promotion of tourism in the state. The cabinet also approved the appointment of Administrative Secretary to Government as the "prescribed authority for purpose of authenticating the sanction/grant of land by the government in favour of any person who is not a resident."
The decision to grant land to outsiders caused panic among common people in Kashmir. Hundreds of people held protest demonstrations at Gulmarg and Tangmarg, opposing the government decision. Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of the hard-line faction of Hurriyat Conference launched a public campaign against the government on what he called "sale of Kashmir". Geelani has called a general shutdown on November 25 in protest against the government move.
Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Ummer Farooq and Shabir Ahmad Shah of Democratic Freedom Party also opposed the move and described it "as an attempt to change the demographic character of Kashmir".
The opposition National Conference also joined the chorus against "sale of Kashmir". Omer Abdullah, president of the National Conference, made frontal attacks on former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayed in a public meeting at Handwara on Wednesday and alleged that "the sale of Gulmarg is the brain child of Mufti". "The conspiracy (sale of Gulmarg) has been hatched in Delhi and executed by Mufti in Srinagar," Omer alleged.
The Congress also came heavily on the government for "leasing land to non-state subjects." Its senior vice President and MLC, Abdul Gani Vakil described the move as "eroding Article 370 of Indian constitution (which grants Jammu and Kashmir a special status)" and declared that the "outsiders will have to tread on our bodies to acquire land in Gulmarg." The Congress's official organ Urdu daily Khidmat also opposed the move in its editorial, giving the impression that the move was solely sponsored by the coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Tourism minister, however, said that it was not the decision of a single party. "It is the decision of the coalition government headed by Ghulam Nabbi Azad," Dilawar said adding, "if there is any misgiving or any flaw in the decision, we will remove it." He said that the land would be auctioned only to permanent residents of the state. "The non-state subjects will be entitled to purchase even auction documents," he said.
Tourism minister flayed National Conference President Omer Abdullah and said that the Land Grants Act was passed in late Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah's government in 1978. The non-state subjects are not allowed to purchase land or immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir under the state subject law.
However, the Land Grants Act provides them to take land on lease up to 99 years.
Dilawar alleged the National Conference government, in the past, has leased out hundreds of kanals of land to the outsiders in Gulmarg and Srinagar. "Jin ke ghar sheshhon ke banne hon, onhien doosroon ke gharon pe pthar nahi marne chahien" (those who live in glass houses should not pelt stones on other peoples' houses).