EVEN AS the Army has returned to South Kashmir to commence “Operation Calm Down”, amid the prolonged unrest in the Valley, top bureaucrats of the state are working on the final modalities for transfer of huge tracts of land to be vacated by the Army. It is estimated that about 1,500 acres of land in Srinagar, Jammu, Anantnag, Leh and Khurbatang area in Kargil are now in various stages of being handed over to the state government.
The transfer of land was one of the main items on the agenda during the formation of the PDP-BJP coalition government in the state. Sources said that after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was sworn in, officials got down to the business of preparing the first shortlist of seven large tracts of land which could be handed over — either fully or partially.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is understood to have intervened in the return of about 200 acres of “high ground” land in Anantnag in June — the state government has already got possession of 32 acres and is awaiting the transfer of another 58 acres — the final modalities for handing over part of the Tatoo Ground in Batmaloo, Srinagar, are currently being worked out.
Senior officials said that last month, the Ministry of Defence wrote to the state government, seeking clarity on the terms of transfer and lease of 22 acres of the Tatoo Ground land — whether, for instance, they would be entering into PPP arrangements for use of land, or whether the plan was to demolish existing structures. An elaborate blueprint is now ready for use of this land for tourism and recreation.
“We have decided that the transfer of the Tatoo Ground land will be the template to move forward on the other tracts too. In this case, we have told the Army there is no need for a formal transfer. We will utilise the land on as-is-where-is basis. What we are happy about is the fact that the latest communication we have received from the Ministry of Defence is a forward looking one, wanting to take the transfer forward,” said a key state official.
Meanwhile, the other transfers of land held by the Army that are being quietly negotiated are:
* Jammu airport: While 137 acres are under transfer, another plot of land for extension of the airport runway has been identified and will shortly be handed over.
* Jammu University: There are two plots of land in question, and discussions are on for land to be transferred on the southern side of the university. The Army has agreed to hand over the residence used by the brigade commander, to be used for expansion of the university, and will get a plot of land in Sunjwan area.
* Khurbatang in Kargil: The Army will vacate 246 acres in the lower plateau of Khurbatang needed for expansion of Kargil town. Here too, another plot of land, though smaller and at a higher altitude, has been identified for military use.
* Kargil and Leh Airports: Officials said a similar “quid pro quo” arrangement has been facilitated for return of airport land to the state government, which would provide smaller tract of land for the Army and Air Force. In the case of Leh airport, there may be no immediate transfer of land but the upgrade of the airport is being actively pursued, with the cost being borne by the defence establishment.
Prior to the Mehbooba Mufti government taking charge, the issue of the delayed transfer of these plots of lands was taken up at the civil-military liaison conference, where the agenda of the PDP-BJP alliance was cited by the state government. The agenda clearly states that the land held by the Army, other than that needed for “specific security requirements”, should be transferred and a decision was subsequently taken to commence the process with these seven tracts of land in different parts of the state.