The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Sunday said the criticism of the strategic zones to facilitate construction by the armed forces was unfounded as the decision did not bypass any existing laws. “The government has recently approved a special dispensation for regulating construction in “Strategic Areas”, required by the armed forces for their direct operational and training purposes. Some misgivings have been expressed in the media regarding the decision.
“The decision simply means that in the so-called notified ‘Strategic Areas’ within the existing land of the armed forces, the responsibility to ensure that construction activities are undertaken in accordance with the developmental control regulations of the Master Plan and that all environmental safeguards are observed has been delegated to the armed forces themselves,” an official spokesperson said.
He said some political parties are deliberately misleading people as if the land is being transferred to the armed forces and entire Jammu and Kashmir is being turned into a military establishment.
“It is being alleged that new areas are going to be declared as strategic, where laws regulating development will not prevail. These are baseless comments being made without reading the facts,” the spokesperson said.
On Friday, the Administrative Council (AC), which met here under the chairmanship of Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu, gave its nod to the proposal to amend the Control of Building Operations Act, 1988 and the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, 1970 to provide for a special dispensation to carry out construction activities in the “Strategic Areas”.
The spokesperson said the amendments proposed by the Housing and Urban Development department will pave the way for notifying certain areas as “Strategic Areas” in terms of the armed forces’ requirement and in such areas, the regulation of construction activity shall be through a special dispensation.
The government’s move was criticised by political parties of the valley, with the National Conference (NC) alleging that it was aimed at transforming Jammu and Kashmir into a military establishment and undermining the civilian authority.
NC spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said at a time when voices are being raised against the poor implementation of the Cantonment Act and construction rules across the country, “we have a headless dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir proposing to put more chunks of land under the control of security forces at the pretext of smooth construction for the requirements of the armed forces in such proposed notified areas”.
“The proposed amendment will add to the pool of land under the possession of the Army by cutting on the remaining arable and fertile land tracts available for agriculture activity. The strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir is not confined to certain areas, as such the entire region is strategically important.
“By that analogy, the government will have a free hand to give as much land to security forces to be used by the latter for any means and the proposed amendment is totally ambiguous about it. It could be anything ranging from colonies to special deployment of defence equipment. It seems the idea behind such a move is to create an Army establishment in Jammu and Kashmir,” Dar said.
However, the government said it is important for people to know the facts, understand the rationale and importance of the decision to avoid believing “these mindless misrepresentations and misgivings”.
“First the facts. The decision has nothing to do with the transfer of any land to the armed forces. The transfer, both acquisition or requisition, continues to be governed by the existing law and norms on the subject. There is no decision to either transfer any new land or declare areas outside cantonments or Army land as strategic. It is the stated policy of the government to regulate and harmonise the requirement of land by the armed forces to meet the competing demands of development and internal security,” the official spokesperson said.
He said over the last few years, the defence forces have brought to the government’s notice that multiple issues keep coming up in their infrastructure development activities, which are not only cumbersome and time-consuming, but at times, go against strategic interests.
“Keeping in view the strategic importance of constructing such infrastructure within a defined timeframe, it has been felt that a special mechanism needs to be put in place for such strategic infrastructure needs.
“On the other hand, it is also important to ensure that whatever development takes place, especially when it is in the local areas of development authorities, it conforms to the overall development plan. The reconciliation of these two competing exigencies of public interest is important. It is with the above objective that the government has approved this special dispensation,” the spokesperson said. He said adequate safeguards are there to ensure that the provisions are not misused.
“Only an Army authority, not below the level of a corps commander, could make a request to the government for earmarking such areas as strategic only for direct operational and training requirements of the armed forces.
“Additionally, the government will satisfy itself about the reasons cited for declaring the areas as ‘strategic’ and have such areas notified accordingly, to the extent and with such conditions as may be required,” the spokesperson said.