Will India's rush to Kashmir to buy their second homes? The answer is still not clear but the sales pitch is high

Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha addressed a two-day real estate summit in Jammu recently where his statements have led to controversy and backlash from political parties.

“Don’t have a conference in Davos. Have it In J&K. We have made such a situation possible here,” Sinha told the audience at the event. Political leaders in J&K have opposed the summit, claiming it was aimed at changing the demographic strata of the region.

“I come from Puri Uttar Pradesh. Our religious texts preach about the kind of acts a human being should do in his life. One of them is to get a house for himself. This philosophy is in vogue in other parts of the country as well," Sinha said.

Thus, the first-ever real estate summit opened every kind of land in J&K to all citizens of India, encouraging people from across the country to buy land, or a second home, in Jammu and Kashmir.

Addressing the summit, Sinha said, "Every person has a dream to have a house and I think here ( in J&K) there are many possibilities. Here, the people of Kashmir want to have a home in Jammu for winters. And people of Jammu and other parts of the country want to have a house in Srinagar so that they can enjoy its beauty in the summers and find respite from the heat," Sinha added.

He said there are people from Delhi and the NCR who have one or two flats at Vrindavan, which is a major pilgrimage centre for the Hindus, located on the banks of Yamuna River about 150 km to the south of Delhi.

“There are Vrindavan-like locations in J&K. Many people from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh want to have a house or flat in Kathua so that they could come for a few days and visit the Mata Vaishno Devi Darshan. There are many places for people who adhere to Islam as well here. We welcome you to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Later Sinha explained in his press briefing that J&K has already identified 6,000 acres of land for industrial investment and this land will be also available for the real estate builders from outside to construct housing colonies.

Under Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir had a separate constitution and Article 35A prohibited people from outside from buying property in Jammu and Kashmir and ensured job reservation for residents. Article 35A would empower the Government of J&K to define a class of persons as constituting “permanent residents” of the erstwhile State, who would be given the status of "state subjects". Sinha called these Articles "walls" that were brought down on August 5, 2019 with the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35-A.

Sinha, who was flanked by Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta, Srinagar’s Mayor, Junaid Azim Mattu, said in a press briefing the government has changed land use policy in J&K. Now, agricultural land will be also available for real estate builders apart from that land lying with Srinagar development authority and Jammu development authority.

The real estate builders can purchase land anywhere and make investments, he added.

When asked whether there will be a Sainik colony for retired and serving armed forces members in Srinagar, Sinha said the day will come soon.

In response to fears of a demographic shift in the region, Sinha asserted that the investment will not bring any demographic change as the development in the real estate would be done in partnership with locals. He said they have not come for doing business in J&K but developing in J&K.

“Recently, we have made changes in the Land Use Policy so that the companies eager to set up industries do not face the problem of land,” Sinha added.

The J&K administration has changed land use laws and allowed re-classifying agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes.

In the current winter session of the Parliament, only seven plots of land had been purchased in J&K following the scrapping of special status. "We have received the proposals for investment worth Rs 44,000 crore. By March 2022, we will be able to bring an investment of Rs 60,000 crore to Jammu and Kashmir, Sinha added.

In contrast to the popular view outside J&K that Article 35 A and 370 were barring industrial development in J&K, industrialists from any part of the country were never barred from setting up businesses prior to the scrapping of Article 370. Taj Vivanta and others have been operating in J&K for many years and the land would be leased to industrial houses for 90 years. Rahul Gandhi in 2009 brought all top industrialists of India including Ratan Tata to Kashmir to invest here but no one did.

The real estate summit was held on December 27 and 28 in Jammu. In the summit 39 MoUs worth Rs 18,300 Crore were signed. It includes investments in the residential, commercial, infrastructure, and film sectors.

The summit has led to severe reactions from political parties.

"The “Real Estate Summit” organized by the government to encourage corporate companies to buy land and other properties in Jammu and Kashmir will effect and endanger the livelihood of farmers of the region," CPI(M) said.

“We have been saying for a long time that the Centre's sole motive to revoke erstwhile state’s special status in an unconstitutional and undemocratic manner was to put J&K on sale and annihilate our identity", it further added in a statement.

“Allowing use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes is another nail in the coffin of the “land to the tiller” reforms in J&K. This landmark reform has been a major reason for the low levels of poverty and it will also threaten the food security of the people of J&K.”

The fact that this conversion of land use doesn’t require the 15-year domicile certificate as a prerequisite, will also “rekindle fears about the motives behind such decisions”, the CPI(M) said.

Former Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah Once also reacted to the development. "Once again the true intentions of the government are brought to the fore. While offering to secure the land, jobs, domicile laws & identity of the people of Ladakh, J&K is being put up for sale. People of Jammu should beware, “investors” will buy up land in Jammu long before Kashmir," Abdullah said.

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said that J&K's special status was illegally revoked to "dehumanise, dispossess & disempower the only Muslim majority state in India".