The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Friday decided to notify certain locations inside the Union Territory as “strategic areas” to facilitate construction by the armed forces.

The move was approved by the Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Council, which met in Srinagar, under the chairmanship of Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu, an official statement said. “The Administrative Council gave its nod to the proposal of amending the Control of Building Operations Act, 1988 and the J&K Development Act, 1970 to provide for special dispensation for carrying out construction activities in strategic areas,” it added.

The statement said the amendments proposed by the Housing and Urban Development Department will pave the way for notifying certain areas as “strategic areas” in terms of the requirement of Armed Forces, and in such areas, the regulation of construction activity shall be through a special dispensation. “The approval has been granted keeping in view the strategic importance of certain locations and reconciling their security needs with developmental aspirations,” it added.

However, mainstream political parties have criticised the move, PTI reported.

The National Conference alleged that it was aimed at transforming Jammu and Kashmir into a military establishment and to undermine civilian authority. “We have a headless dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir proposing to put more chunks of land under the control of security forces at the pretext of smooth construction for the requirements of the armed forces in such proposed notified areas,” party spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said. “The proposed amendment will add to the pool of land under the possession of the Army by cutting on the remaining arable and fertile land tracts available for agriculture activity. The strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir is not confined to certain areas, as such the entire region is strategically important.”

Peoples Democratic Party leader Naeem Akhtar said the decision is “scarier” than the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, The Indian Express reported. “It seems we might not be left with enough land even for graveyards,” he added. “It means no resident of Jammu and Kashmir has any power in determining even the basic functions of local government.”

On Sunday, an official spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir administration said the criticism was was unfounded as the decision did not bypass any existing laws. “The decision simply means that in the so-called notified ‘strategic areas’ within the existing land of the armed forces, the responsibility to ensure that construction activities are undertaken in accordance with the developmental control regulations of the master plan and that all environmental safeguards are observed has been delegated to the armed forces themselves,” he said.

The spokesperson added that adequate safeguards are there to ensure that the provisions are not misused. “The decision has nothing to do with the transfer of any land to the armed forces,” he said. “The transfer, both acquisition or requisition, continues to be governed by the existing law and norms on the subject. There is no decision to either transfer any new land or declare areas outside cantonments or Army land as strategic. It is the stated policy of the government to regulate and harmonise the requirement of land by the armed forces to meet the competing demands of development and internal security.”