India to offer 6,000 acres in held Kashmir to investors

Published February 14, 2020
A security personnel stands guard to block a road near closed shops while strict restrictions are imposed during a lockdown in Srinagar in occupied Kashmir on September 28, 2019. — AFP/File
A security personnel stands guard to block a road near closed shops while strict restrictions are imposed during a lockdown in Srinagar in occupied Kashmir on September 28, 2019. — AFP/File

NEW DELHI: India plans to offer around 6,000 acres of land in held Kashmir as part of a business summit planned for April or May “to help” the disputed region after withdrawing its special rights and making sweeping administrative changes.

Until August, New Delhi termed the India-held Himalayan region as its Jammu and Kashmir state, but then it split off a Buddhist-dominated enclave and designated both as federally-administered territories.

India enforced the changes through a harsh crackdown, deploying thousands of additional troops, imposing a communication blackout and detaining scores of people.

Now the government is offering the land, along with tax breaks and insurance cover, to draw businesses there, according to Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, the disputed region’s commissioner secretary in charge of industry and commerce.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government insists that the reorganisation in August was essential to spur development in Jammu and Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

The area is not a particularly industrialised one, with per capita income of Rs62,145 ($870) in 2016-2017, lower than the Indian average of Rs82,229, but better than several states.

More than 1,300 acres of the land offered is in the held Kashmir valley, the centre of a 30-year revolt against Indian rule in the territory, according to an investor presentation.

In some conflict-ridden areas, the government would consider providing security and higher insurance cover to comfort investors, Dwivedi said.

“If we want somebody to come and do business here, taking care of the interest of the businessman is definitely our responsibility,” he said, adding that the government hoped to create 100,000 new jobs.

Land is a sensitive subject in held Kashmir, where outsiders were previously prohibited from buying property because of fears that an influx of people could change its demographics.

A consultant involved with the planned summit said that more than 250 businesses are discussing the possibility of investing under the initiative. These include investments in cement, education and tourism sectors, the consultant said.

However, a former finance minister for Jammu and Kashmir, Haseeb Drabu, described the plan as “absurd” because of the prevailing situation in the territory.

“You need a peaceful environment for investment ... today it is very volatile,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020

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