Javid Amin, Journalist based in Kashmir (J&K). Printer, Publisher, Editor of "Weekly Shohrat - Kashmir" (Print Edition) as well owner of online news portals www.KashmirPost.org / www.KashmirInFocus.com. Aimed at putting Kashmir and its issues on the global platform. An extensively traveled person enjoys writing.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, through an order on October 26, introduced amendments to 14 laws of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and repealed 12 others.

What changes have been made to land laws in Jammu and Kashmir?
The Ministry of Home Affairs, through an order on October 26, introduced amendments to 14 laws of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and repealed 12 others.

Key amendments were made to four major state laws that governed ownership, sale, and purchase of land in the erstwhile state. These are The J&K Development Act, 1970, The J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996, The Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976 and The J&K Land Grants Act, 1960.

The most evident change has been made to The J&K Development Act, which has removed the phrase “permanent resident of the State” without specifying any substitute such as domicile, or any other clause to regulate land ownership — thereby allowing the purchase of land by any individual.

Additionally, while defining “strategic areas” in J&K, Section 3 of the Act states that the government may “on the written request of an Army officer not below the rank of Corps Commander, declare an area as Strategic Area within a local area, only for direct operational and training requirements of armed forces”.

The mention of “permanent resident of the state” has also been omitted from Section 17 of this Act, pertaining to “disposal of land by the authority”.

Two of the laws that have been repealed — The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, 1938, and The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 — provided protections on land holdings for permanent residents or “permanent resident certificate holders” as defined by laws of the erstwhile state of J&K.

Section 4 of The J&K Alienation of Land Act stated that “transfer of land in favour of any person who is not a State Subject, is prohibited.” State subjects were permanent resident certificate holders as defined in the now abrogated Article 35A of the Constitution.

Likewise, Section 20A of the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act also specifically prohibited transfer of land to non-state subjects — “No land shall be transferred to such tillers as are not State Subjects as defined in the Judicial Department Notification No. 1-L/84, dated the 20th April, 1927.”

What about the sale of agricultural land?
Despite repeated assurances from Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha as well as the top bureaucracy of the Union Territory that agricultural land owned by local people will be protected, sections of the October 26 order have raised concerns.

Section 133-A of The J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996, states, “no land used for agriculture purposes shall be used for any non-agricultural purposes except with the permission of the District Collector”.

Further, sub-section 2 of Section 113-A adds that an owner or occupant who wishes to put his agricultural land to non-agricultural uses as provided in the regional plan, development plan or master plan as the case may be, “shall do so it after payment of conversion charges as prescribed by the Board from time to time”.

Therefore, either with permission from a district collector or through payment of conversion fee, agricultural land can be re-purposed for non-agricultural use.

At a press conference, the J&K government spokesperson stated that “the safeguard on agricultural land alone would ensure that more than 90 per cent of land in the UT which is an agricultural land remains protected and with the people of J&K.”

However, as per the last estimates available, the Revenue Department places the total reported area in J&K at 24.16 lakh hectare, of which just over 9 lakh hectares is the net sown area of the UT — which is 37 per cent of the total area.

The same data place 6.58 lakh hectare area under forest cover, which is another 27 per cent of the total land area. Even if both net sown area and forest cover were to be considered protected, the figure does not add up to 90 per cent. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What is the government’s argument for making these changes?
There is the government’s stated objective for integrate the UT with the rest of the country.

Also, The J&K administration led by L-G Manoj Sinha has argued that the old laws were a product of an old order and “were made to serve the old agrarian based economy”. The UT administration has termed the laws “regressive”, with “a lot of scope for discretionary interpretation and corruption”.

It has said that the 12 laws that have been repealed were “either redundant or obsolete”, and that the definition of agriculture itself has been “vastly expanded” to include horticulture and allied agriculture activities.

The administration has also argued that the move is aimed at providing the people of J&K a “modernised” land management system that is people-friendly, and brings greater transparency in land management.

After the constitutional guarantees provided under Article 370 and Article 35A were removed on August 5, 2019, J&K’s was stripped of its special status, and the Centre made provisions in The J&K Reorganisation Act to make adaptations and modifications in the law for a period of one year.

Section 96 of the Act states that “before the expiration of one year” the central government may “make such adaptations and modifications of the law whether by way of repeal or amendment, as may be necessary or expedient”. Such modifications could be made directly by the Centre until October 31, a year from the day J&K became a Union Territory.

What is the J&K Industrial Development Corporation? What will be its functions?
Under The J&K Development Act, provisions have been made for setting up an Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to ease the setting up of industries in the region. The purpose of the corporation will be “securing and assisting in the rapid and orderly establishment, and organisation of industries in industrial areas and industrial estates” in the UT, and to establish commercial centres in connection with the establishment and organisation of such industries.

L-G Sinha had earlier said that industries will only come up in industrial parks and, therefore, the IDC will establish, manage, and develop industrial estates at places selected by the J&K government. The IDC will also have the power to “acquire and hold” such property, both movable and immovable, as it may deem necessary for the performance of any of its activities.

What are the apprehensions in J&K with regard to the changes in the land laws?
After the constitutional changes brought about on August 5, 2019, removed the special protections applicable in J&K through Article 370 and 35A, the Centre, at the end of March 2020, introduced the domicile clause.

The legislation was brought through an amendment to The J&K Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment) Act, 2010. The Act redefined who a citizen of the newly created UT would be, and included, among others, persons who have resided in the UT for over 15 years, persons who have taken Class 10/12 examination in an educational institution within the UT, as well as children of those central government officials “who have served in Jammu and Kashmir for a total period of ten years”.

For the first time since the accession of the former princely state to India, the population of Jammu and Kashmir was set to include new members. Former PRC holders were also required to secure domicile certificates for jobs — therefore, as per last estimates provided by the J&K administration in September 2019, over 18.5 lakh certificates had been issued. Of these, the administration said, just about 1.64 per cent certificates were issued to non state subjects.

However, as per the government’s own estimates, approximately 3.6 lakh West Pakistan refugees, roughly 4,000 Valmikis settled in Jammu, and about 24,000 workers in the organised and unorganised sector with greater concentration in Jammu, Samba, and Kathua, were eligible to be issued domicile certificates. There are, however, no clear estimates of government employees who are included in the domicile roster of the UT.

With fears of demographic change rising in the only Muslim majority region in the country, there are growing apprehensions that land in J&K was being “put up for sale”, setting the stage for “outsiders” to pour into the UT, fundamentally changing the character of the region.

What is the political pushback to the changes in the land laws?
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration has termed the government’s reassurances on the land laws as a “bizarre attempt to distort facts, weave lies and mislead people”.

The alliance, a platform of the signatories of the Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019, has said that the real objective of repealing the basic land laws and carrying out massive amendments to the other laws was to push through and implement the agenda of effecting demographic change, and disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Jammu and Kashmir was first in the country to implement the concept of ‘land to tiller’ by enacting Big Landed Estates Abolition Act 1952 followed by Agrarian Reforms Act 1976 restricting the land holding to twelve and half acres and ending the exploitative practice of ‘absentee landlordism’ and whosoever calls it archaic would be guilty of ignorance of the history of Jammu and Kashmir,” the alliance said in a statement.

It was because of the timely land reforms in the erstwhile state “that there are no starvation deaths occur in Jammu and Kashmir, no farmers suicides have been ever reported and everyone in Jammu and Kashmir has available three fundamental necessities — food, clothing, and shelter, the position that is now sought to be reversed by making massive assault on the land law regime”, the alliance said.

It said the new laws were against the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and were “undemocratic, unconstitutional and backwards-looking with only aim to disempower people and change the demography”.