Kashmir stunned as new land law enables people living outside Jammu and Kashmir to purchase land in the Union Territory

Published : October 28, 2020 09:45 IST

A participant during the 'Jashn-e-Dal' ceremony at the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on October 9. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

In a move that saw an outpouring of shock and anger from the Kashmiri people and mainstream leaders alike, the Centre notified new land laws for Jammu and Kashmir on October 27 enabling people living outside the Union Territory to purchase land there.

The Jammu and Kashmir Development Act ends the exclusive rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with regard to ownership of immovable assets in the U.T. It stipulates that land can be transferred in favour of a person or institution for the purposes of promotion of health care, senior secondary education or higher and specialised education. It further empowers an Army officer not below the rank of Corps Commander to declare an area as “strategic” for operational and training requirements of the Armed Forces.

It does not have the rider “being permanent resident of the State” for purchase of land in Jammu and Kashmir, which the National Conference (N.C.) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) say will “open their land for sale”.

There was noticeable anger on the Internet as journalists, civil society groups, students and politicians took to social media sites to voice their disapproval of the law. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “Unacceptable amendments to the land ownership laws of J&K. Even the tokenism of domicile has been done away with when purchasing non-agricultural land & transfer of agricultural land has been made easier. J&K is now up for sale & the poorer small land holding owners will suffer.”

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti described the move as “GOI’s nefarious designs to disempower & disenfranchise people of J&K”. Yousuf Tarigami, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said: “This is a design to disempower the people of J&K further and put their land on sale for corporations. It is daylight robbery of land in the name of integration, development and security.” Muzaffar Shah of the Awami National Conference (ANC) said that the Centre has laid bare its real intent and has no love lost for its people. “Will you bring such laws in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim or Assam?” he said, adding that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was using Kashmir as a spring ball for fomenting communal polarisation.

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, which includes the N.C., the PDP, the CPI(M), the J&K People’s Conference (P.C.) and ANC among others, vowed to fight the measure that went against Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on all fronts.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha voiced the government’s often-repeated argument that Article 370 hampered development and investment in the erstwhile State. “We want, like other parts of India, industries should be set up in J&K. My government is committed to peace, progress and prosperity,” he said.

There is, however, some restrictions on the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. According to amendments made to The Jammu & Kashmir Land Revenue Act, Samvat, 1996, only agriculturists of Jammu and Kashmir can purchase agricultural land. “No sale, gift, exchange, or mortgage of the land shall be valid in favour of a person who is not an agriculturist,” it reads.

The Centre is likely to notify separate land laws for the U.T. of Ladakh soon.