JAMMU: Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Speaker Nirmal Singh has landed into a controversy with the Army objecting to the construction of his house adjacent to an ammunition depot along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway.
The Army has demanded an immediate halt to the construction work citing security reasons.
Singh, who resigned as the deputy chief minister on April 30, however, asserted today that he had undertaken the construction after fulfilling all legal requirements.
He said the the matter pertained not just to his property, but also to thousands of acres of land of villagers and farmers around the ammunition depot.
The Speaker said the dispute has gone to the court, which has not stayed the construction.
Reacting to the controversy, former chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Twitter, BJP leaders' homes in Jammu are a 'security risk' according to the Army. It is well known locally that they gobbled up the land cheap & had hoped to use their influence to regularise the purchase".
In a letter addressed to Singh on March 19, Commander of Army's 16 Corps Lt General Saranjeet Singh had raised an objection over the construction of the house adjacent to its Nagrota station.
"It has implications on the security of a major ammunition storage facility as well as the safety of personnel living in close vicinity of the ammunition depot," the letter said.
The J&K Assembly Speaker said that he had started constructing the house on a 2,000 square metre plot last year.
The land was bought in 2000 by the Himgiri Infrastructure Development Private Limited, whose shareholders included present J&K Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta and BJP MP Jugal Kishore, he said.
Gupta, who took over from Singh in the recent cabinet reshuffle, however, said that he was no longer associated with the company.
I have no land there. I was one of the shareholders of the company, but resigned from its directorship after I became the Speaker of the state assembly," he said today.
Gupta said if anyone had broken rules, appropriate action should be taken against them.
Nobody is above the law... If the Army has made certain rules, we should follow those rules, he said while denying having any knowledge about the construction of Singh's house.
The Speaker said there has been contention over the no-construction zone for years.
"Committees were set up by deputy commissioners of Jammu to resolve the issue for the last several years. While the Army has maintained that the distance of no-construction zone should be considered from the boundary wall of the depot, the people want that the distance should be considered from the depot itself. This is the point of contention," he said.
Singh also questioned the Army's "silence" over a village with over 50 houses coming up very close to the depot and a large commercial complex being set up within 200 metres from the controversial spot.
But, the Army commander said the construction was in violation of the Defence Act, the 2002 Defence Ministry notification besides a notification issued by Deputy Commissioner, Jammu on August 7, 2015 that construction activity within 1,000 yards of the boundary wall of four Ammunition Sub Depots (ASDs) has been prohibited.
As per the state building permission rules, no construction can take place within 500 metres of any Army formation for commercial buildings and 200 metres for residential purpose.
Despite the rules, several colonies, including the posh Friends Colony housing ministers and bureaucrats, have come upclose to the wall of the air force base and BSF headquarters in Srinagar over the past decade.
Over 500 houses and commercial establishments have been set up within the wall of Sunjuwan military station here which was attacked by terrorists early this year.