Owners of hundreds of businesses in Jammu and Kashmir, including hotels at the skiing resort Gulmarg, are worried that they might have to close down after a new land law has come into effect in the Union Territory.
According to a notification, the administration has asked the owners to hand over possession of leased land immediately, failing which they shall be evicted. The administration has also refused to renew the lease of outgoing lessees and decided to outsource it through online auction.
Opposition parties have strongly reacted to the administration's decision to bring the new law into effect. They say the move is aimed at giving the land to outsiders, dispossessing local businessmen and entrepreneurs.
"Natural justice is that you give leaseholders the right to renew the lease. They should have the first right of refusal. You ( administration) should decide rates. If leaseholder are not willing pay then you can take next step" said Omar Abdullah, former J&K chief minister.
The National Conference leader said that it appears the new law is aimed at snatching properties from local lease holders and giving it to outsiders.
Sajad Lone, president of Peoples Conference said the new rules are not at par with the rest of the country and it will start a dark chapter. "It may well start the dark chapter of now blatantly othering the Kashmiris. Lease rules across the world and in India are fairly simple and on similar lines. But these are different and not without motives," tweeted Mr Lone.
Altaf Bukahri, president of J&K Apni Part president Altaf Bukhari termed the notification as "draconian and inhumane" "We have never seen such laws anywhere in any part of the world. People in possession of the land are being kicked out. It should be dealt and managed in an appropriate way. These new land laws cannot be implemented and will not be allowed to be implemented," said Mr Bukhari.
But Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has said land laws in Jammu and Kashmir were "regressive". The land laws were "not framed keeping in view the interests of the common masses. Around 40 to 45 per cent cases in various courts are due to land disputes," Mr Sinha said.
According to the J&K Land Grant Rules, 2022, which had replaced J&K Land Grants Rules, 1960, land can be leased for education, healthcare, tourism, skill development and recreational purposes.
It can also be given to ex-servicemen, war widows, families of deprived categories, migrant workers, building and construction workers and sufferers of natural calamities.
According to the new rules, outgoing lessees will be paid for any structure built on the land, "provided the lessee has not violated any of the conditions of the lease".
The hoteliers in skiing resort Gulmarg say the decision will shut their businesses and destroy tourism sector. All tourist facilities in most of the tourist resorts in J&K are built on leased land.
There are 58 hotels and hutments built on leased land in Gulmarg. Except just one hotel, lease period of all other properties has expired in Gulmarg, the hoteliers say.
The government had given the land on lease for a period 40 years under the 1960 law to promote tourism.
"We were repeatedly requesting the administration to renew lease agreements and we are ready to pay as per market rates. But after dillydallying for years, they have come up with a new land rule," said a hotelier.
Lease period of these properties has expired for last several years.
"After years of turbulence in Kashmir, tourism was revived for the last few years. We have been doing good business and a large number of jobs are created in the tourism sector. The new land rules will uproot hoteliers who have invested heavily during difficult times in the Valley," said another hotelier.