JAMMU: As the confusion and concerns deepen within the Opposition and various stakeholders, Vijay Bidhuri, the administrative head of the Revenue Department has asserted that the new Land Grant Rules-2022 are in the interest of Jammu and Kashmir and its people.
As political parties found the new rules against locals, and ‘not without motives’, Bidhuri said the only motive was to enhance government revenue, and that the local interest had been kept intact.
In a telephonic conversation with The Dispatch, Bidhuri, Commissioner Secretary, Revenue Department discussed in details various aspects of the new rules, from the cancelled leases, to affected people; from land types that fall within the ambit of these rules, to the meagre revenue that was generated from land leased under the old rules; and why the government would not grant the outgoing lessees first right to land.
Here are the ten things Bidhuri explained regarding the new land grant rules:
1. No valid, ongoing lease impacted
Against the popular view that all ongoing leases have been terminated, Bidhuri says that only those lessees whose leases have expired by the flux of time stand terminated under the new rules.
The new land grant rules asked the outgoing lessees to immediately handover the possession of the land taken on lease to the Government, failing which lessee will be evicted as per the provisions of Public Premises (Eviction of un-authorized Occupant) Act, 1988.
“The outgoing lessees shall, however, be paid for any improvement carried out or structure constructed thereon at the value assessed by Executive Engineer, provided that the lessee has not violated any of the conditions of the lease,” the rules said.
“The new Act has been misinterpreted by a lot of people. All the subsisting leases will continue till their expiry by flux of time. Only those leases that have expired will be terminated and only those lease-holders have to handover their land back to the government,” Bidhuri told this scribe.
2. Only state land, TDA land under its ambit
“It has been clearly mentioned that the new land grant rules deal only with the state land and the land under the Tourism Development Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir. There is nothing to be worried about, for the industrialists and other stakeholders of the union territory,” Bidhuri said.
After the new rules were notified, the industrialists had expressed their concerns, fearing that these new rules, if extended to industries set up on leased land, might affect their livelihood, and that of thousands of people employed by them.
“All these fears are unfounded,” assured Bidhuri.
3. Industrial land to be leased by I&C Department
The Act mentions that while the new rules would not be applicable to land which has been transferred to the Housing and Urban Development Department and its Agencies, or to any other department of the Government.
Bidhuri mentions that the Industries and Commerce Department is also one among ‘any other department’.
“The rules say that such a department or its agencies shall auction the leases of such land through their own policy or in case no such policy is framed, through forward auction till such policy is framed. In case of industrial land, the I&C department will lease the land through Industrial Land Allotment Policy-2021,” Bidhuri says.
J&K’s new Land Grant Rules: Also applicable to tourism sector; old leases terminated, new for 40 years max, through online auction
4. No local interests harmed
Bidhuri also dismissed the apprehensions of opposition parties in the UT that the new rules are aimed at snatching the land held by locals.
“All these apprehensions are unfounded. If a local’s lease has expired, and the land is now being taken over from him, he has all the rights to get the same land back through auction. Who has stopped any of the outgoing lessees from sitting in the auction,” Bidhuri said.
5. Why not the first right to outgoing lessees?
Amidst the political furore over the matter, National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah has called for giving the first right of lease to the outgoing lessees, even as other political parties have also called for giving the outgoing lessees the lease right for they have spent a considerable amount of money on the properties.
Bidhuri, however, says that the first right will not be given to outgoing lessees.
“There are two reasons. One, we are paying for their investment in the land. We have mentioned clearly in the policy that the outgoing lessees will be paid for any improvement in land, and structure thereon, provided they have not violated any terms and conditions of the lease. Why are we paying them? Because it was a part of their original lease,” Bidhuri said.
“Second,” he explains, “is the fact that this reasoning won’t stand in legal challenge. We have Delhi High Court’s judgment on Taj Mahal Hotel, and subsequent judgment from the Supreme Court.”
Taj Mahal Hotel, better known as the Taj Mansingh Hotel, was set up in 1978, with a 33-year lease to the Tata Group’s Indian Hotels Company Limited(IHCL). In 2011, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the civic body which owns the land on which the 294-room luxury hotel is situated, wanted to call for an auction. However, the IHC was demanding that it get the new lease, arguing it has spent so much money to build the place’s reputation.
After 5 long years in the court, the Delhi High Court had allowed NDMC to end the existing lease and proceed with the auction. The hotel was finally auctioned in 2018, with IHCL retaining the lease on the iconic property for another 33 years.
“Like I said, who is stopping the outgoing lessees from sitting in the auction and retaining their property,” Bidhuri said.
Read J&K New Land Grant Rules-2022 Here: J&K Land Grant Rules-2022
6. Public Property, Public Interest
Bidhuri says that the Revenue Department is the trustee of land that is a state asset.
“We will try to get the best value of the land, while ensuring that public interest is protected. Jammu and Kashmir High Court has also said in its 2020 orders that disposal of public property should be for public purpose and in public interest, and that public auction ensures transparency, being free from bias or discrimination and beyond reproach,” Bidhuri said.
“This is what we have done with the new rules. We have provided for a public auction of the land on lease, so as to ensure that public interest is protected, besides ensuring transparency,” said Bidhuri.
The case he mentions is a 2020 PIL in Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh High Court, wherein the court had asked the government to formulate a new lease policy for hotels and shops in Pahalgam and Gulmarg areas of Kashmir Valley,
Reprimanding the government for loss of revenue, the court had asked the government to auction the land to be leased.
“Disposal of public property partakes the character of trust and there is a distinct demarcated approach for disposal of public property in contradiction to the disposal of private property i.e. it should be for public purpose and in public interest. Invitation for participation in public auction ensures transparency and it would be free from bias or discrimination and beyond reproach,” the court had observed.
The court in November 2020, had directed for inspection of all properties in Gulmarg and Pahalgam, and for action to recover all properties that were illegal, and under unauthorized occupation.
A year later, in December 2021, the court asked the government to expedite its decision with regard to the renewal of land lease of hotels in Gulmarg, which have already expired in accordance with the policy which was in vogue when the leases were granted.
In July this year, the court asked the government to reveal whether it proposes to extend leases and if so on what terms and conditions, and if not, then how it would deal with the hotels and other existing structures.
Read J&K Old Land Grant Rules-1960 here: J&K Land Grants Act-1960
7. How many lessees impacted?
“Not a lot,” Bidhuri said.
While the political parties say that thousands of farmers, hoteliers and business people are being told to vacate the land leased to them, Bidhuri says that around 250-300 people will be impacted as their lease has expired by flux of time.
8. Enhancing govt revenue only motive
Bidhuri said that the only motive behind new Land Grant Rules is to enhance the revenue generated by the government through these public properties, while protecting the public interest.
“The outgoing lessees paid the premium based on the prevailing rates of the 1960s or 70s. It is too long a period of time,” he said.
While the premium for the land to be leased would be more in line with the current market prices, the government also aims to generate revenue from the yearly ground rent which has now been fixed at 2.5% of the premium.
“Under the old rules, it was a meagre 10 rupees an year,” Bidhuri said.
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9. Custodian land not impacted
Responding to concerns in some quarters with regards to the new Act being applicable to evacuee property leased out to custodians in Jammu and Kashmir as well, Bidhuri said that it was not the case.
“Except the state land and land with tourism development authorities, no other type of land is impacted with the new Land Grant Rules,” he said.
However, he mentioned that a separate policy is in the offing for the evacuee property as well, but that is for a later date.
10. Policy for residential leases soon
“The new Act has been very clear that leases for the residential purposes, both subsisting as well as those who have expired, do not fall under the ambit of the new Land Grant Rules. The Revenue Department along with Housing and Urban Development Department will formulate a separate policy in this regard for such leases executed under the Jammu and Kashmir Land Grant Rules,1960 and this new policy will be notified soon,” Bidhuri said.