Gulmarg and Sonmarg, peaks that are always covered with snow and long visited by tourists, could now see more Army presence. The Centre has allotted a total of 129 acres of land in Gulmarg, India’s finest skiing destination, and 44 acres in Sonmarg, to the military for operational and training requirements.
This decision has sparked concern, taken by the J&K Union Territory government, which notified the land as “strategic areas” after asking the military to use it for military purposes.
Both the areas remained free from conflict. The military already incorporates a presence in both places where it’s running high-altitude warfare schools.
In 2020, the Centre amended rules in Jammu and Kashmir, authorizing the administration to notify “strategic areas” to use by the soldiers and regulating construction through a special dispensation.
Accordingly, an order was issued by the J&K tourism department that notified the land in Gulmarg and Sonmarg as “strategic areas” and allotted large chunks to the military. The department asked the military to stick to environmental laws and forestall any hazards.
“Corp Commander shall ensure strict adherence to the environment-related laws to forestall any environmental hazard,” read an order issued by the secretary of the tourism department. “It shall confirm that no other applicable law effective within the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is observed in the breach,” the order further said.
“This land acquisition by security forces will surely create a warzone-like atmosphere within the region. Now, they have seized around 1,300 kanals of land in Gulmarg and Sonmarg, this might be often extremely sad that our prime locations are being occupied by forces,” said Imran Nabi Dar, Spokesman, National Conference.
The PDP has alleged that the transfer of land to the army in tourist destinations maybe a shot by the government to convert J&K into a military horizon. PDP spokesman Mohit Bhan said the Centre should rather notify land for the return of migrant Pandits instead of increasing security footprints.
“What’s the requirement of the hour? It’s to demilitarise this place instead of bribing the military to the doorsteps of people. The irony is that Kashmiri Pandits have to wait to return for the last 32 years but couldn’t find land,” said Bhan.
While the military needs the land for operational and training requirements, given its massive presence in Kashmir, people associated with tourism are questioning why the land in two prime tourist destinations has been allotted for military purposes.