The actions of senior members of the Jammu and Kashmir BJP in Nagrota have come under a cloud. Himgiri Construction Development Limited, a company incorporated in 2000, owes Rs 29.31 crore to J&K Bank — the loan was declared a non-performing asset in December. Speaker Nirmal Singh (earlier deputy CM) and Deputy CM Kavish Rai, along with RSS members, serve on the Board of Himgiri.
The company has been used to buy land next to an army munitions depot in Nagrota, and despite protests, in writing, by Corps Commander of the Army’s 16 Corps, Lt General Saranjeet Singh, to Nirmal Singh, he has continued the construction of a house on the 2,000 sq metre plot. The high court has had to step in, asking state officials to act to restrict construction next to military bases.
The episode involving Nirmal Singh, Kavish Rai and Himgiri presents a problem on several counts. First, refusing to respond to, let alone act on, the army’s reasonable request to halt construction, and calling it “politically motivated” as Singh has done, aims at driving a wedge between the state government and the security forces. Second, as reported by this newspaper, the land was registered in 2014 and the next year, almost immediately after coming to office, the state government sanctioned the construction of an IIT, IIM and a zoo next door.
It was incumbent upon senior members of the government not to be seen to be profiting from their office — a perception that is difficult to avoid given the facts of the case. Finally, it is important to recall that the Nagrota base was attacked by militants as recently as November 2016 and seven soldiers lost their lives in the ensuing operations. That the army has had to petition the court to halt the construction of a house, and that Nirmal Singh has impugned their motives in this regard, only underlines that the rhetoric about national security falls far short of the BJP leaders’ conduct.
Going forward, the state government must be seen to act swiftly against any illegal construction. The J&K High Court has given the local police and revenue authorities till May 30 to report on the implementation of its order restricting construction next to the Nagrota base. The officials must meet that deadline. The Union Home Ministry has recently acted on Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s request for a unilateral ceasefire during Ramzan and the Amarnath Yatra. For the pause in the military action to yield fruit, the state government and army must act in unison to ensure security while reaching out to the people of Kashmir. At such a time, Mufti must ensure that senior members of her government are not seen to privilege profit over national security.