Kashmiri separatists have threatened mass agitation if state land is allotted for setting up residential colonies for armed forces personnel in Srinagar or elsewhere in Kashmir Valley.
They asserted that any such move would be seen as a deliberate attempt on part of the government to change the demography of the State. Mainstream opposition National Conference (NC) and some other regional political groups too have publicly opposed the proposition. “Sainik Colony could be a ruse to settle non-state subjects in Kashmir and hence will bypass Article 370,” said former Chief Minister and NC working president, Omar Abdullah.
The Jammu and Kashmir authorities had while moving on a proposal fast-tracked when the State was under Governor’s rule earlier this year asked the concerned officials to identify land in Srinagar and neighbouring Budgam district for Sainik colonies to house troops and their families.
Earlier in April 2015, the Rajya Sainik Board (RSB), headed by Governor N. N. Vohra, had approved establishment of a Sainik colony close to Srinagar’s old airport and subsequently 21.6 acres of land were identified for it and the proposal was sent to then Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, for his approval. In August last year, the board, however, sent a second note to the State’s Home Department, seeking more land as 26 senior officers, 125 junior commissioned officers and over 900 soldiers had applied for allotting them plots of land in the proposed colony, requiring a total of 44 acres of land.
In turn the Home Department sent letters to the deputy commissioners of Srinagar and Budgam asking them to “furnish requisite information” regarding the allotment of land “at the earliest.” The idea of setting up Sainik colonies in Srinagar and elsewhere had actually been mooted by BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Tarun Vijay in May last year to accommodate soldiers and families of those killed in the line of duty. Later Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, told Parliament that since allotting land was a state subject the matter has been forwarded to Jammu and Kashmir government.
The separatists who sturdily opposed transfer of forestland to Amarnath shrine board a few years ago and are resisting setting up exclusive separate colonies for displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley have said they are going to fight tooth and nail the proposal of establishing Sainik colonies in Kashmir. “It would be tantamount to killing the Kashmiri nation. Hence resist or breathe your last,” said Syed Ali Shah Geelani in a statement here on Saturday.
He added that any carelessness on this sensitive issue “will prove a final nail in the coffin of our existence, identity and our freedom struggle and we will become strangers in our own land”. He asserted that there is no legal or moral justification in settling ex-servicemen in the “disputed territory” of Jammu and Kashmir after leaving aside the 29 states of India. “It is an open aggression and hooliganism and to counter this aggression Hurriyat Conference will formulate a strategy to gather a national consensus on the issue,” he said.
He alleged that setting up Sainik colonies “is not only a dangerous plot to influence the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir but it is also a deliberate attempt to end the special status of this State”, adding that India is working on many long term and short term programmes “to continue its illegal and forced occupation of the State.”
Another senior separatist leader Shabir Ahmed Shah warned of public protests if such a proposal is implemented on ground. “The people of Jammu and Kashmir will never allow the government of India’s conspiracy to settle the retired armed personnel and non-state subjects in the state under the garb of Sainik colony. Such Israeli type settlements will be opposed tooth and nail,” he said.
He added if Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, permits the BJP and the RSS to accomplish its agendas on J&K “it would be a political death for her and end of PDP in the State”. He further said that Ms. Mufti’s “ambiguous stand” on the issue is raising questions and that she has to clear her stand otherwise her silence would be taken as affirmation.
Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir said that the proposed Sainik colonies in Kashmir are an attack on the demography of the State. “The allotment of the land in this way is part of a well-designed plan for erosion of the special status under Article 370 and the state subject law which prohibit the allotment of land for settlement of any non-state subject within the state. It is also an attempt to harm the disputed character of Jammu and Kashmir under the UN resolutions,” it said in a statement.
Abdullah said the PDP-BJP government’s “glaring contradictions” on the Sainik colony proposal had given rise to apprehensions about their underlying political motive. “From denying that land is being provided to the ‘Sainik Colony’ to the administration officially writing to concerned officers to identify land for the colony, the PDP-BJP government of Mehbooba Mufti has come a full circle. Considering their track-record over the past more than a year, people have serious apprehensions and rightly so,” he said adding the Chief Minister continues to be vague on this issue and it seems has been implicitly ordered to not interfere in this matter.
“Is the Mehbooba Mufti government trying to re-enact the 2008 turmoil where a PDP government set the State on fire in violating the State’s special status by giving away hundreds of kanals of land to the Amarnath shrine board in violation of legal norms, Article 370 and various inviolable constitutional provisions?,” he asked and said, “There seems to be an uncanny similarity between what PDP did in 2008 and what the PDP-BJP government is trying to do today with the Sainik Colony proposal”.
The former Chief Minister said, “It seems her silence on the ‘Sainik colony’ issue was also a result of her complicity in such political maneuvers that are aimed at weakening the State’s special status and altering its demographic character”. As the issue has the potential of creating a hostile situation for Mufti-led PDP-BJP government in the state especially Kashmir Valley, the government on Saturday said that no land has been allotted or is being allotted anywhere in Kashmir for any housing project in the name of Sainik Colony.