When Indira Gandhi wanted to acquire a plot of land in Srinagar

The state subject law was promulgated by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927 mainly on the insistence of Kashmiri Pandits with the twin objective of preventing Hindus from mainland India to usurp their employment opportunities in J&K and also protect the distinct ethnic identity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It suited the Dogra Maharaja as well in as much as it debarred non-local people to acquire land & other immovable properties thus allaying his fears of being outnumbered by Indians & foreigners and protecting the demographic character of his State.

In May 1962, Indira Gandhi, while on a visit to Srinagar along with her Prime Minster Father Pandith Nehru, expressed her wish to Sadri-Riyasat , Karan Singh to acquire a plot of land in Srinagar. Singh readily offered one from his own estate of Karan Mahal adjoining Shankracharya hills, free of cost. Nehru agreed to the arrangement provided no rules or regulations had to be changed. Karan Singh was of the opinion that no law or rules were violated if Nehrus were to acquire a plot of Land & build a house in Srinagar ( selected correspondence between Indira Gandhi & Karan Singh-letter dated 25th May 1962-reproduced in “Kashmir & Beyond” by Jawaid Alam P 383).

When the issue reached Prime Minster Bhakshi, he expressed his reservation as Nehrus were not permanent residents of the State. An over zealous bureaucrat suggested to transfer the plot to a State subject Pandith relative of Nehrus still living in Kashmir , to hold it on their behalf. When the said Pandith ji was informed about the scheme he refused to be a party to indirect violation of state subject laws. In New-Delhi, wise counsels prevailed upon Nehru not to let the matter gain any publicity as it could boomerang. He accordingly advised Indira to drop the idea.

Now compare this historical anecdote to transfer of a five star Hotel (Oberoi Grand Palace) with all land appurtenant thereto, in 1997/1998 to a non-State subject (Lalit Suri) curiously & ironically falling in the same area. How the property was transferred through dubious & devious means is an interesting story in itself? The whole property was, in the first instance transferred to a female State subject relative of Suri’s hailing from a highly influential family(Batras) from Jammu. Thereafter a joint stock company was incorporated in which the non-state subject relatives(Suris) of female Transferee were made shareholders. This way the Hotel and the land became the property of Lalit Suri and is shown as such in their website- www. Thelalit.com. The finance for the deal was arranged by J&K Bank. In sum & substance, we allowed a non state subject to acquire property in our State with the help of our own money. 

It is not that no body from J&K was willing to purchase the property. Many of the top businessmen of the State were craving for the property and made herculean efforts to acquire it but the then Chief Minster dissuaded all of them for reasons though unknown but fully imaginable . The deal with Lalit Suri had the full protection & patronage of the then chief Minster of the State & chairman of J&K Bank and the instance shows to what extent our own rulers & bureaucrats can go in demolishing our identity.

The story does not end there. If one remembers, Oberoi Hotel had on the front side a row of shops occupied by local Kashmiris selling shawls, carpets ,gems & Paper-machie items etc. etc to Hotel Customers. Immediately upon taking possession of the property, Lalits closed the doors of the hotel & dispossessed all such local Kashmiris of their shops by demolishing them & throwing their goods on the roadside. 

Author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail: abdulmajidzargar@gmail.com


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