New Domicile Law

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At a time when the world is in the middle of a pandemic, New Delhi took time off to change the J&K domicile law, opening door, for the first time, for the outsiders to move in. The law has struck off the term ‘permanent resident’ and replaced it with ‘domicile’, which means anyone who has resided in J&K for fifteen years. The rule has been relaxed for the central government officials who must have served in the region for ten years for them as also their children to qualify for domicile status. The rule is even more lenient for the students from outside the region, who must have “studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examinations”.

What is more, as against a district magistrate earlier, it is now a tehsildar who will be competent to issue a domicile certificate within his territorial jurisdiction.  Similarly, all higher and middle-ranking jobs have been opened up to outsiders leaving only lowly fourth class jobs for the residents of J&K.

This has turned on its head the recent assurances of a domicile law that barred outsiders from buying land and claiming local jobs. And it were these assurances that had underpinned the post Article 370 politics led by a group of leaders headed by businessman turned politician Altaf Bukhari. Now they are also upset about the new law.

Much like the revocation of Article 370, the domicile law has been issued without taking J&K’s public and political opinion on board. This has only further deepened a sense of political disempowerment among people. More so, when  there is no political leader in Kashmir in a position to stick his neck out. Two former J&K Chief Ministers Dr Farooq Abdullah and the son Omar Abdullah have been largely silent since their recent release from months-long detention following withdrawal of Article 370 in August last.

After his release on March 24, Omar had said he would not talk about Article 370 till the time the “life and death” war against coronavirus was not won.  He has since largely been talking about the need for people to observe precautions to  overcome the disease. But after Centre issued new domicile law which more or less opens up Kashmir for settlement by outsiders, Omar’s approach has come in for public criticism.

However, considering the far-reaching fallout of the new law on the demographic landscape of J&K, the situation in the UT has been plunged into a deep uncertainty.  The move has already eroded any shred of legitimacy that New Delhi blessed new J&K politics might have enjoyed. It has also dented the credibility of the established mainstream politicians who are now blamed for bringing this upon the region by always siding with New Delhi. However, any visible expression of the public anger against Centre is likely to be contained by the ongoing preoccupation with coronavirus. That said, New Delhi should review the new law as a confidence building measure towards J&K. This would go a long way to address the alienation in the Union Territory.

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