The Union Home Ministry’s announcement of new rules, which make all Indian citizens eligible to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir, has sparked outrage in the Valley.
It has also mounted pressure on the recently cobbled-up ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD), led by Dr Farooq Abdullah, that seems to be running out of options to fight back the aggressive posturing of the BJP-led central government.
The significant announcement was made on Tuesday, 27 October, through a 111-page gazette notification called the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, 2020.
According to the order, the amendments made to the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act will allow ‘outsiders’ to buy land in the union territory.
Earlier, only the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir were entitled to buy land or property in the strife-ridden region. After the BJP government read down Article 370 and Article 35-A on 5 August 2019, it did away with the Permanent Resident Certificate, allowing non-residents to apply for jobs in J&K.
However, the Centre had promised that it would protect the land rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. New domicile rules, introduced earlier in 2020, had reserved land rights for people who could prove to have worked or lived in J&K between 7-15 years. With the new rules, the domicile rules are now history.
A ‘Grossly Unconstitutional’ Move
The announcement by the Home Ministry caught on the back foot the leaders of the PAGD, which is made up of almost all shades of pro-India political opinion in Kashmir. Soon after the Home Ministry’s notification, National Conference (NC) Working President Omar Abdullah accused the BJP of attempting to change the Muslim-majority character of J&K.
“Even basic protections granted to states such as Himachal Pradesh have been denied to the people of J&K. We are being put up for sale. Clearly, they want to alter the (Muslim majority) character of J&K. We are not living in dictatorship. This should have been done with our consent. New Delhi has no right to decide who we should sell our land to,” he said.
Terming the move as ‘grossly unconstitutional’, a statement issued on Twitter by the PAGD’s Sajjad Lone said the order was “huge betrayal” and “massive assault” by the BJP on the rights of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“It is a brazen violation of the principle of constitutional proprietary .... (that is of) fundamental importance to constitutional democracy. The unconstitutional measure is clearly designed as an attempt to preempt the outcome of the challenge before the Supreme Court,” the PAGD statement said.
‘Why Isn’t BJP Seeking Local Consent?’
Asked why people from the rest of the country should not be entitled to buy land in J&K, senior NC leader Aga Ruhullah said: “Because we decided to accede to the Union of India on these terms and conditions that our culture and identity will be preserved. And this is not unique to J&K only. Many other states like Himachal, Assam, Pondicherry have this arrangement for them.”
“This is the question which should have been asked to us when we acceded with these terms. Not after 70 odd years when the State of India accepted and gave us this right in the Constitution. Had these questions been raised then, we may have decided accordingly.”
The PDP’s Waheed Parra, a confidante of Mehbooba, said that such laws already exist in J&K that allow outsiders to invest or take control of land.
“We already have laws that allow investment and a 99-year land lease process. It’s not about bringing people or buying land but the consent of locals before taking a decision. Why isn’t the BJP seeking local consent and participation for any such decisions,” he said.
Ruhullah said that if the other states of the country decide to have arrangements similar to that of Himachal and other places, the people of J&K will not force themselves over them.
“Should they decide to have an Article like 370, we will respect that. Every state can decide for themselves. Till the moment they give access to others to buy property in their states, denying that access or right to individuals on the basis of their religion or being a Kashmiri is injustice and not correct.”
Indian Army’s Newfound ‘Control’ In J&K
Former Chief Minister and PDP Chief Mehbooba Mufti said that the new rules are meant to “disempower and disenfranchise the people of J&K. From the unconstitutional scrapping of Article 370 to facilitating the loot of our natural resources and finally putting land in J&K up for sale,” she said.
“After failing on all fronts to provide roti and rozgar to people, the BJP is creating such laws to whet the appetite of a gullible electorate. Such brazen measures reinforces the need of people of all three provinces of J&K to fight unitedly,” she said in another tweet.
The new rules also entitle a Corps Commander-level officer to declare a “strategic area in a local area” in Jammu and Kashmir, which will enable the Indian Army to take full control of the area.
“We already knew that the Kashmiri lives didn’t matter for the BJP but now it is out in the open that the land under our feet, the sky above our heads and our livelihoods, everything is up for grabs under the BJP,” Waheed Rehman Parra, PDP youth president said.
New Land Rules In J&K: ‘Proverbial Nail In The Coffin’
The announcement of new rules triggered a storm on social media platforms among Kashmiris. Facebook and Twitter were flooded with posts hitting out at the BJP for “usurping the land of Kashmir”.
Many users termed the new rules as a “land grab” and a “proverbial nail in the coffin” for J&K which is the only Muslim majority state in the country.
“On the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, BJP had then claimed that it was being done to ensure development, creation of jobs, women empowerment and transparency. But the Kashmiris knew that the real reason for abrogation was land grabbing and demographic change. It can’t be anymore brazen and violent,” human rights defender Khurram Parvez wrote on Facebook.
“It is not just land that is up for sale for outsiders in Kashmir. It is our homeland and our lives that they are auctioning,” Shams Irfan, senior journalist, wrote on Twitter.
‘Bogey’ of Industrialisation In J&K A ‘Distraction
In its order, the MHA said the new rules will “encourage development” of Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of the Articles 370 and 35-A. Under the rules, a non-local is entitled to buy non-agricultural land in any part of J&K.
While the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said in Srinagar on Tuesday that the agricultural land has been reserved for farmers, the new rules make it clear that the government, if it deems necessary, can allow transfer of agriculture land for non-agricultural purposes.
A district development commissioner has been empowered to sanction such transfers.
“Like the rest of the country, we want good industries to come up here so that there is progress, development and employment,” LG Sinha said.
However, Omar said the “bogey” of industrialisation of Jammu and Kashmir is an attempt to distract people from the BJP’s agenda of changing the Muslim-majority character of the region.
“There are many states in the country where land is reserved for locals and yet they are industrialised. The Kathua-Samba belt (in J&K) is one of the most industrialised areas in the country. The country’s top hotel chains run their business in Kashmir’s tourism sector. The bottomline is: they don’t want to see a Muslim-majority state within India,” Omar said.
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk. This is a report and analysis, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)