New Land Laws

IN a new order on Tuesday, centre has thrown open the J&K land for outsiders. It has removed the requirement of being a J&K domicile for the purchase of land in the union territory. In the amended laws the urban and non-agricultural land can be bought by outsiders. It has permitted contract farming on agricultural lands and provided for setting up of an industrial development corporation. Also, the areas earmarked for development do not fall under the purview of the laws that earlier ensured ownership rested with permanent residents.

Government had earlier indicated that some protection on land-rights on the lines of Himachal Pradesh and North Eastern States will be granted to domiciles of J&K. But this hope has been belied.

The new laws do not restrict purchase of farm land by non-J&K agriculturists. There are also no limits on the extent of area for building a residence or a shop. Such restrictions do exist in some states in the rest of the country.

Similarly, the reference to ‘permanent residents of the State’ has been removed from laws that provide for housing for economically weaker sections and low-income groups.

The laws have been opposed by the The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. The newly formed alliance of six parties has described the Centre’s action as a “huge betrayal”. Its spokesman Sajad Lone termed the land laws as a massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and also grossly unconstitutional. National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah said the laws are designed “to alter the character” of Kashmir and have added to the fear of demographic changes. J&K, he said, has been put up for sale and left bereft of any basic protections.

Earlier this year, the domicile law that opened up Kashmir for settlement by outsiders were issued in similar circumstances, 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 or civil society leader in Kashmir in a position to stick his neck out.

However, considering the far-reaching fallout of the new land laws 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 by a section of society 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 pandemic. That said, New Delhi should review the new land laws 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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