Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Investigative Report shows how Gulmarg will end up as another ecological disaster like the Dal

Kashmir's senior journalist, Fayyaz, takes the lid off an unholy nexus between local politicians and influential businessmen intent on destroying the ecological and aesthetic balance in Gulmarg

(Mr. Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, 48, was born in Bodina, Budgam, and received his primary and secondary education in Budgam and later at Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Kashmiri language and literature from the University of Kashmir in 1987. He is the Srinagar bureau chief of Jammu & Kashmir's largest-circulated newspaper, Daily Excelsior. He is also a filmmaker and currently making a film on Kashmir's top pilgrim tourism destination of Chrar-e-Sharief, and about Sheikh-ul-Alam Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani, also known as Nund Rishi.)

Thanks to Roshni, Gulmarg is actually now on sale!

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR: Thanks to a 2008-model interpretation of 'Jammu & Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act 2001' (commonly known as Roshni) by Revenue Department, Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) is currently being relieved of more than 550 Kanals of prime State land which the Government had transferred to it for development of tourist infrastructure as lately as in 2005. Objections and reservations from Tourism Department have been summarily overruled and preparations are in the final stage to confer proprietorial rights to over two dozen influential hoteliers of Kashmir valley.

Consequent upon Cabinet decision No: 98/7 dated 30-05-2005, Tourism & Floriculture Department of J&K Government had transferred 15,494 Kanals and 13 Marlas of State land to GDA at Gulmarg for development of tourist infrastructure vide Government Order No: 137 TSM of 2005 dated 13-06-2005. The infrastructure, according to the Government Order issued by then Principal Secretary Tourism Anil Goswami, would include "resorts, hotels, spas, restaurants, paths, roads, water reservoirs, power, sewage treatment plants, parks, water bodies, shelter points, other public amenities etc".

The land covered under Khasra numbers 1 to 1126 included over 500 Kanals of the State land which the Government had earlier allotted to different hoteliers from time to time on the basis of revocable lease for a specified period. None of the occupant hoteliers challenged Govt Order No: 137 as they knew that their leases were revocable at any point of time and that Roshni's section 3 barred them from acquiring proprietorial rights of the said land. Section 3 (b) makes it clear that the Roshni Act would not apply to such state land as is "held by any Government Department or institution under the control of the Government". Section 3 (c) prevents its application to the State land as is "earmarked for a specific purpose in any Master Plan".

According to senior official sources, it was since beginning of the current year that certain highly influential hoteliers approached Tehsildar of Gulmarg with their applications seeking proprietorial rights on the land held by them under lease inside Gulmarg. Even as the number of such applicants spiraled to over 30 in a few days, six of them were categorized as "front-runners". As required under the Act, Tehsildar forwarded their cases to Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla, Baseer Khan. Rather than taking a decision, as happens in all Roshni cases, DC Baramulla forwarded the hoteliers' case to the administrative department of Revenue through Divisional Commissioner Mehboob Iqbal for necessary interpretation.

During the course of correspondence, Secretary Tourism Nayeem Akhtar, recorded his department's objections and reservations to applicability of the Roshni Act to the State land which had already become "departmental" vide Government No: 137 dated 13-06-2005. Sources said that on the advise of Minister incharge Tourism and Law, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Secretary Tourism made it clear to Revenue Department that the said land belonged to GDA and that the same was required for the specific purpose of development of tourism infrastructure under Gulmarg's Master Plan.

Department of Revenue not only communicated its approval to DC Baramulla but also constituted a Committee, headed by DC Baramulla, for the purpose of fixing cost of the land to be taken from the lease holders while declaring them as owners of the said land. On June 4th, senior Revenue officials not only participated in the Committee, headed by DC Baramulla, but also directed subordinate officials to "complete this process as quickly as possible". Surprisingly, those recommended by senior officials, include a highly influential family whose lease in the matter of three prime hotels at Gulmarg has since expired.

DC Baramulla, Baseer Khan, confirmed to EXCELSIOR that proprietorial rights were being given to "eligible authorized occupants" on the GDA land. He said that the process of transferring the said land to a number of hoteliers was in the final stage as the Committee chaired by him had just fixed Rs 35 Lakh as the cost of each Kanal of land. He said that Additional DC, Assistant Commissioner (Revenue), Tehsildar of Gulmarg and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) GDA were other members of the Committee. Khan asserted that his Committee had proceeded in this matter only after getting "necessary clarification" from Department of Tourism and Department of Revenue.

Sources, however, insisted that CEO GDA, Farooq Ahmed Lone, objected to applicability of Roshni Act on the State land already transferred to GDA by the Government for a specific purpose under Master Plan. His objections were overruled.

Reached over telephone for his comments, Secretary Tourism Nayeem Akhtar confirmed that his department had communicated its view to Revenue Department on the question of granting proprietorial rights to the hoteliers at Gulmarg under Roshni Act. He refused to reveal Tourism Department's views and said: "I have no comments".

Sources in Tourism Department, however, revealed that Secretary Tourism had made it repeatedly clear to Revenue Department that the land in question was not only "State" but also "Departmental" and the same was required by GDA for a specific purpose under Gulmarg Master Plan. He had also pointed out that the land originally belonged to Forest Department and the same had been transferred to Tourism Department for development of tourist infrastructure in first half of the previous century. "How can the originally Forest land be taken away from GDA and handed over to lessees at whatever the cost?", Akhtar is said to have asked and asserted that GDA was a Government department under the control of the Government.

Secretary Revenue, Masood Samoon, maintained that the land in question had not been earmarked under any Master Plan and thus could be plainly given to authorized occupants against the cost to be fixed by a Committee of officials under Roshni Act.

Sources, believed to be well informed on the subject, said that an influential coterie of businessmen and hoteliers had earlier this year started efforts to get proprietorial rights on the land they have been holding on revocable lease basis at Gulmarg as well as Pahalgam. They said that in Pahalgam, cost of such land was being fixed at Rs 12 Lakh. According to them, cost of prime tourist land at Gulmarg and Pahalgam was currently in the range of Rs 70 Lakh to Rs 1.50 Crore. They described Gulmarg as a "test case" and claimed that Roshni Act, which was otherwise very clearly restricted to only non-departmental land, would soon be extended to all other tourist attractions in the State.

"It will automatically render all the 22 Development Authorities defunct" said a Government official. He added that almost all the lately created development authorities were existing only on papers. He pointed out that Government had transferred 7,000 Kanals of State land to Sonamarg Development Authority over two years ago but only 150 Kanals had been physically given in possession of the authority.

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