Srinagar: The government has started identifying land in Jammu and Kashmir for companies from outside the erstwhile state who have shown willingness to invest in the region since the reading down of Article 370 of the Constitution.
A senior government official said so far around 17,000 kanals of state land has been earmarked in regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ravinder Kumar, managing director of the State Industrial Development Corporation (SIDCO) said at least 10,000 kanals of land has been identified in Kathua and Samba districts of Jammu and another 5,000 to 7,000 kanals have been earmarked in Ganderbal, Kupwara and some other districts of Kashmir.
“There is some land in Vessu (in Anantnag) also,” Kumar told the Wire, adding that the process for identifying land has been ongoing for some time now.
According to Kumar, the government has issued directions to all district commissioners, both in Jammu and Kashmir, to submit details about the state land available in their jurisdictions.
“We have enough land in both the regions,” he said.
However Kumar said so far no land has been handed over to any of the outside companies which have shown interest in investing in J&K.
Ever since BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, it repeatedly questioned the continuation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution, terming both the provisions a “hurdle” in the development of Jammu and Kashmir and in attracting outside investment to the troubled region.
While Article 370 gave special status to J&K in the Union of India, the Article 35A empowered the erstwhile J&K state assembly to define the state subjects and grant exclusive rights to them. This also prevented outsiders from buying land, owning property or applying for jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.
On August 5, the Centre read down both the Constitutional provisions and bifurcated the state into the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. The two units came into existence on October 31.
Kumar said in the past four months since Article 370 was read down, SIDCO has received Expressions of Interest (EoI) from at least 39 outside companies. These companies, according to the official, have shown interest in investing in different sectors in J&K, including apple industry, cold storages, dry fruit and saffron industries, and tourism and hotel industries.
“All of them have submitted detailed project proposals, including land required, to set up their businesses,” said Kumar. “But things are at the preliminary stage and so far, no project has been cleared.”
The reading down of Article 370 has led to fear within the Kashmir Valley that BJP was working on a design to change the demography of the Muslim majority J&K. The mainstream parties have also repeatedly echoed similar concerns in the past four months.
BJP has tried to allay these fears. On October 21, the party’s national general secretary Ram Madhav told a workers’ function in the summer capital Srinagar that the Centre will not take any step against the interests of the people of J&K.
“All precautions will be taken so that there is no harm to the identity, culture, jobs and education of people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Madhav said.
The state unit of BJP has also flagged concerns about the protection of land rights. Senior BJP leader from Jammu, Nirmal Singh has pitched for the introduction of a domicile law like in Himachal Pradesh and north eastern states to protect the land and job rights of the people of J&K.
“Soon, we are going to propose a domicile-like option for citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The interests of the people of J&K shall be protected. Like in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, agricultural land cannot be bought,” Singh, who was the deputy chief minister in the previous PDP-BJP government, told a news channel in the wake of the Article 370 decision.
A senior official of the rank of secretary in J&K administration said the government wants to first create a “land bank” before opening doors for the outside investors.
“The good thing is that investors are now showing interest to enter Jammu and Kashmir. This wasn’t the case earlier,” said the official. “Once some companies start their operations in J&K, it will encourage other investors to follow. We hope this is only the beginning.”
The official said two of the prospective investors recently visited J&K and had detailed discussions with the government officials on their business plans.
While SIDCO is the nodal agency for promotion and development of medium and large scale industries in Jammu and Kashmir, a high-level official panel with administrative heads of different departments as its members has been tasked to scrutinise each project proposal before vetting them.
According to Kumar, the government was hoping that the J&K Global Investor Summit, to be held next year, would provide platforms for outside businesses to explore the potential of Jammu and Kashmir in different sectors and plan their investments.
The three-day Summit was scheduled on October 12. But the government postponed it in view of the prevailing situation in the Valley. The situation in Kashmir continues to remain tense even after four months since the scrapping of the state’s special status.
Kumar, who is also the nodal officer for the Summit, said the J&K government was yet to take a call on the dates for holding the event.
“The programme will play a huge role in lifting the business environment in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. “We will try to rope in more businesses and investors as there is huge potential in different sectors.”
A top business from Kashmir said they were not averse to the government’s plans to attract investments and create a business atmosphere in J&K.
“But there are fears that on the pretext of business and investment the government will hand over the land to outsiders. That will not be acceptable. There is no clarity on how the government plans to go ahead and allow investments,” said the businessman, wishing not to be named.
He said people, as well as the business community of J&K, have never been averse to investment from outside, adding there were provisions for handing over land on lease to outsiders for investment earlier also (prior to August 5).
But, he said, the situation has changed now. “Concerns have been raised by people as well as the business fraternity, both in Jammu and Kashmir and so far the government has done little to address these concerns.”