The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gulmarg: going, going...
- 70 acres for locals, non-Kashmiris can be resort partners

Srinagar, Oct. 17: Kashmir’s world-famous ski resort Gulmarg is on sale. A cabinet decision taken late last night allows for joint ventures with private investors from outside the state in infrastructure development.

Gulmarg — which draws golfers in the summer and skiers in winter — is a favourite with tourists. The decision to lease out land in the resort is aimed at generating funds for the state and attracting tourists with improved facilities.

“The land would be leased to state subjects alone,” said Jammu and Kashmir tourism secretary Nayeem Akhtar. “They can enter into joint ventures with outside bidders for the development of hotels, restaurants and other tourism related facilities.” The state’s Land Grants Act allows land to be leased for 99 years to both residents and outsiders.

In the first phase, 70 acres of land are up for grabs with a reserve price of Rs 15 lakh per kanal (one eighth of an acre). That alone is expected to generate a minimum of Rs 84 crore for the state.

A plot area ceiling for hotels has been fixed at two acres and not more than one plot can be allotted to any family.

The ruling Congress-PDP coalition had earlier decided to lease out land to outsiders but abandoned the move after it triggered strong resentment in the state. “The fresh decision has taken care of all the reservations. Nobody can now say Kashmir is on sale for outsiders,” Akhtar said.

National Conference president Omar Abdullah, however, described the decision as “a continued assault on the state’s special status’’ by the government. “We will still wait for the full document (the cabinet decision). We are not against investment but our concern is that the title of the land should not be transferred in favour of non-state subjects,” he said.

Akhtar said outsiders will not have any claim on the land. “Their interest will be restricted to the super-structure that will come up on this land,” he said. “The locals also shall retain sufficient interest in such joint venture or establishment and at least 50 per cent staff has to be local.”

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice-president Nazir Ahmad Dar said the decision has largely addressed their concerns. “There is a provision for greater local participation in any enterprise,” he said. “Besides, last time the government had put a condition that the allottee should have expertise in the particular sector. This time there is a provision to hire expertise and it is good for us.”

He, however, said the locals should have more control over the management of new enterprises. “If it is not so, we will speak against it,” Dar said.

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