Srinagar, Jan 20:
The Government’s first list of prime properties proposed to be retrieved in Srinagar and Gulmarg as they have been illegally occupied, contains the names of some of the valley’s most prominent hoteliers, businessmen and political families.
These include the 110-kanal premises of the defunct Nedous Hotel on Maulana Azad Road in Srinagar that is linked to the Abdullah family.
According to the officials, around 10 kanal of the State land had been given on a time-bound lease, against a nominal premium and annual rent, to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s brother-in-law Colonel Ghulam Qadir Nedou over 70 years back. Once iconic Nedous Hotel was constructed and operated at the same premises for decades.
After Col. Ghulam Qadir’s death, this land has been in possession of his son Omar Khaleel Nedou whose daughter Zainab was married to Faisal Patel, son of the AICC President Sonia Gandhi’s former political advisor Ahmad Patel, in 2011. She died in June 2016. Even as some people close to the Abdullah’s family insist that Nedou got the lease renewed lawfully after it expired, officials insist that under a recent Government order all such leases had been cancelled.
According to the official documents, the Nedous have subsequently taken into illegal possession 100 kanals and 13 Marlas of adjoining State land around the same hotel premises. Then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah lived in his house on the same land. Later his sons Dr Mustafa Kamal, late Tariq Abdullah, adopted son Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, son-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah and his family and Col. Ghulam Qadir’s extended family also lived in different houses at the same premises. The Shahs and the Nedous are still living there.
Sources insist that Nawai-e-Subah, headquarters of Sheikh’s National Conference (NC) at Zero Bridge and a prime property leased out and subsequently transferred to J&K Pradesh Congress Committee’s ‘Khidmat Trust’ behind the Press Enclave in Srinagar, are also in the government’s first eviction list in Srinagar.
“The Khidmat Trust property of over Rs 100 crore value has been illegally inherited by the family of the former J&K Pradesh Congress Committee President Ghulam Rasool Kar”, said an official.
Other major commercial properties on lease with different members of the Sheikh family include the famous Dhanjibhai Building on The Bund in Srinagar Civil Lines at which the iconic handicraft producers ‘Suffering Moses’ and the famous ‘Mahata Photographers’ have been operating since the 1950s.
All these State lands, including over 200 Kanals given to four Christian Missionary schools, have been leased out against nominal premium and yearly rentals. These properties, housing commercial establishments worth billions of Rupees, are valued at Rs 10 crore to Rs 15 crore per Kanal. Officials maintained that most of these leases had already expired and the same had not been revalidated.
According to official documents, Hotel Pine Palace/Pinnacle has been operating from a land leased out to Enar Smith. It has reportedly expired long back. The lessees have reportedly annexed State land of 7 Kanal and 6 Marlas with the same land.
According to the same documents, prominent hotelier Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya has taken in possession a piece of land which was originally leased out to Hari Nand Raina and Bansi Lal Raina between Broadway Hotel and MLAs Hostel on Maulana Azad Road in Srinagar. While the lease has expired, Chaya has allegedly annexed adjacent State land of 3 Kanal and 18 Marlas with the same land and raised his own Grand Mumtaz Hotel at the same premises. Grand Mumtaz was subsequently converted into Hotel Radisson Blu. This is also proposed to be retrieved.
The Chaya family sources, however, insist that Mushtaq Ahmad has lawfully acquired this land in exchange with the land of another lessee which has been duly confirmed by the Government.
Hotel Hill Top, which was originally raised and owned by Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya, was subsequently acquired by his brother Imtiyaz Ahmad at Gulmarg. It is currently in possession of Imtiyaz Chaya’s son Aijaz Ahmad. The official documents claim that the lease has expired and the lessee has annexed adjoining State land of 4 Kanal and 14 Marlas with the same premises.
The famous Khyber Hotel at Gulmarg, owned by the prominent business tycoon Omar Tramboo’s Pinnacle Resorts Private Ltd does also figure in the Government’s first eviction list. The land has been leased out to Amarjeet Singh and Parapjeet Singh in the 1980s. It has been subsequently sublet to the Tramboos. Official documents claim that the owners have also illegally annexed State land of 9 Kanal and 6 Marlas. The Income Tax Department carried out an extensive raid on Khyber in November 2022 and claimed to have seized documents and electronic gadgets.
Hotel Royal Castle has been operating from a piece of land originally leased out to Dr MH Basu and his wife S Basu. It has been subsequently sublet to Hilal Ahmad Shah and Mukhtar Ahmad Shah. While the lease according to official documents has expired, the owners have also allegedly grabbed adjoining State land of 7 Kanal and 6 Marlas.
Sources said that the case of the transfer of many such State lands, in favour of the valley’s top hoteliers at Gulmarg, under the nullified Roshni Scheme has been investigated by the erstwhile State Vigilance Organisation (now Anti-Corruption Bureau) and it has been sub judice with a designated court in Baramulla since long. Former IAS officer, Baseer Ahmad Khan, who also served as Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir and finally Advisor to LG, is one among the accused in the same case.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha clarified to the media on Thursday that the State lands would be retrieved from only those who had grabbed these illegally with “misuse of their power and position.”
While responding to a reporter’s question on the sidelines of an official event in Srinagar, Sinha made it clear that his government had no plan of retrieving any lands from the “common and poor people”.
“Honourable High Court has repeatedly ordered to evict the (State) land grabbers. I have said it before, and I am making it clear yet again, that the lands will be retrieved only from those influential people who have misused their power and position to grab the same. The government will not touch the common and poor people”, Sinha said.
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