Land Laws: How Influential Media Commented On The Intervention?

SRINAGAR: Permitting non-locals to purchase the land in Jammu and Kashmir is seen as one of the major interventions by the BJP government after the reading down of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. It has started triggered a chain reaction in Kashmir and in Jammu. How the media in Delhi and elsewhere sees it? Some major newspapers have skipped commenting on the intervention. Here are some of the editorials by some major newspapers outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Leaders of “Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration” addressing a press conference at PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti’s Gupkar residence on October 24, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Real Estate: On Changes To J&K Land Laws
People’s participation in the political process is a must for J&K to see stability with growth

The Hindu, Chennai
October 29, 2020

The changes in land laws in Jammu and Kashmir notified by the Centre on October 26 allow the purchase of land by those who are not permanent residents of the Union Territory, for the first time. Only permanent residents could purchase land in the erstwhile State, which was reorganised as two UTs, J&K and Ladakh, in August 2019. One of the arguments against the now nullified special status of J&K was that the restrictions on land transfers hampered investments. J&K industrial policy had limited landholding of investors to designated enclaves. The changes in land laws were logical steps to follow the end of the special status. Some restrictions remain on the transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, but this too can be cleared by the district collector. The government has said the changes will encourage investment and advance peace and progress in J&K. The argument that these changes would help the people of the region might have been stronger if these were done in consultation with them. The irony is that in all three regions — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh — there is strong opposition to opening the land market to non-residents. Political parties in J&K too have opposed the changes.

Free movement of people and an integrated national market can advance development but India’s governance structure accommodates fears and concerns of local populations in this context in a measured manner. There are several States which have provisions to regulate ownership and transfer of land under Article 371 of the Constitution. The Centre is expected to announce new land laws for the UT of Ladakh before October 30, and it has promised to “safeguard interests of the people” regarding “all issues related to language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs”. The Centre’s approach towards J&K has been marked by a lack of trust, which has accentuated the alienation of large sections of the population. Fears of deliberate demographic engineering have dominated politics in the Valley for long. After the reorganisation of the State and the loss of its special status in 2019, the people of Jammu and Ladakh also turned nervous on this question. Desirable as it may be, there is no point forcing a particular path of development upon people. The situation is precarious also because of the heavy hand of the state on political and civil society activities in J&K. The unilateralism that has come to define New Delhi’s dealings with J&K is achieving little. There is no wisdom in pushing through measures aimed to promote investment when the end result is political volatility. The Centre’s policy towards J&K must be buttressed by a robust political process that enables people’s participation and ensures stability with growth and development.

Omar Abdullah led PAGD delegation interacting with people at Drass on Friday, October 30, 2020.

J&K Realty
New land laws will not help the government build trust in the former state. Guarantees are needed to check land alienation fears

The Indian Express, Delhi
October 29, 2020

The centre appears determined to go out of its way to court anger in Jammu and Kashmir, as if to convey to the people there that they are completely incidental to its plans for the one-year-old Union Territory. The new land laws notified on October 27, like the new domicile rules notified in April, do nothing to assure the people of the former state that their concerns on demographic change are being taken into consideration. Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha telling people, as late as the morning of the notification, to “rest assured” that no land would be sold to outsiders flies in the face of the notification that opens out J&K land for sale to anyone from any other part of the country, with no protections whatsoever. There are 23 petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decision, revoking the special status of J&K and bifurcating the state into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. It would have been proper for the government to wait for the court to pronounce a verdict on these petitions, last heard in March, instead of creating a fait accompli on the ground.

If the Centre had hoped J&K’s political parties might reconcile themselves to the August 5, 2019 decisions, the changes to the land rules have made it even more difficult for them to do that. In a place where people have come to view the government’s every action as an assault on their ethnic, political and religious identity, land rights take on huge significance. The sentiment was reflected in the reactions of all political parties in J&K. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration called it a “massive assault” on the rights of the people. Fears of demographic change have haunted the people of Ladakh, too, and the J&K notification would have sent shock waves through the newly elected councillors of the Leh-Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. But it is in BJP-dominated Jammu that the feeling of having been let down by its own is most predominant.

From August 5, 2019, the government’s actions in J&K have smacked of hubris, as if to say, “we do what we do because we can”. That may win some elections for the BJP, but it is not a solution to the longstanding problems in Kashmir. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured that there is no plan to change the demography of J&K and that the Centre would take all steps to protect employment and land rights of the people. These assurances have to be written into the law to prevent further alienation of the people of J&K.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Home Minister Amit Shah after the passage of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in Lok Sabha on August 6, 2019.

The Ground Beneath Changes For Jammu and Kashmir
Most parties fear it as a measure to facilitate the large-scale acquisition of land by people from other parts of the country, including corporates, in service of a political project to change J&K’s demography and extinguish Kashmiri identity.

 Deccan Herald, Bangalore
October 29, 2020

The new central order on Kashmir, notified on Tuesday, would make fundamental changes to land and property relations in the state-turned-Union Territory like few other government decisions have done in the past. A similar action of long-term impact was the land reform enactment of the Sheikh Abdullah government in 1950. The present order will overturn what have been among the most progressive land reforms in any state in the country.

It enables any Indian citizen to buy non-agricultural land in the UT, without being a permanent resident or domicile. The government can also decide any area as “strategic’’ and take it over for use of the armed forces. As many as 38 state laws have been revoked or amended to facilitate the working of the new order. The revocation of Article 370 and 35A last year had changed the political status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Union of India, the present order operationalises it on the ground, directly affecting life there.

Political parties in the UT, except the BJP, have opposed the changes and strongly condemned them. The people of Jammu would also not be happy with the new order. Most parties fear it as a measure to facilitate the large-scale acquisition of land by people from other parts of the country, including corporates, in service of a political project to change J&K’s demography and extinguish Kashmiri identity.

It is a matter of surprise that, in the process, the long-standing law under which major beneficial land reforms were carried out in the erstwhile state has been abolished now. It has been pointed out that the new order is in violation of the promises made to the people of Kashmir by the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister.

The most glaring deficiency of the new order is that it has been issued without consultation with, not to speak of the consent of, the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no elected, representative body functioning in J&K and so there is a question mark over not just its acceptability but its very legitimacy. A decision of such import should have been made by the state Assembly or should have been endorsed by it.

The legality of the decision may be especially questioned because the legality of the abrogation of J&K’s special status under Article 370 itself has not been settled by the court. It should also be noted that the people of J&K now do not have the land rights which those in Himachal Pradesh and some North-East states have. The latest order is bound to fuel more discontent in Kashmir. And that’s not a good thing for the country.

Three former Chief Ministers’ who have cumulatively ruled Jammu and Kashmir for almost a quarter-century are leading the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Centre Design In J&K Stands Exposed At Last
In May this year, new domicile rules were devised to let some people from outside J&K to apply for permanent resident status

The Asian Age, Delhi
October 30, 2020

A recent Union home ministry order, which opens the door for any Indian to buy non-agricultural immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir, deals a grievous blow to the aspirations — and to the psyche — of the people of Jammu, the Kashmir valley, and Ladakh, the three regions which until August 5, 2019, formed the state of J&K.

The legal status of this order shall remain dubious until the Supreme Court has dealt with the challenge before it to the law through which was whittled the constitutional autonomy of the erstwhile J&K state and whose long-term consequences for India appear far from happy. The long delay in the top court pronouncing on one of the most consequential matters brought before it in Independent India has occasioned considerable surprise.

Since constitutionally downgrading J&K, the Centre has taken a series of steps that have negatively impacted the lives of ordinary people in the UT and bred resentment. Among these are the hampering of the study of ordinary students by not permitting high-speed Internet, virtually killing journalism through the harsh treatment of media personnel, placing severe restrictions on the movement of people, banning protests, filling top positions in the UT administration by non-Kashmiri officers — to say nothing of putting thousands of non-BJP politicians in jail.

In addition, in the name of quelling terrorism (and instilling patriotism by fiat) there is the egregiousness of troop deployment on an extensive scale not seen even in the intense militancy-affected years of the late 1980s-the early 1990s. To place matters in perspective — all policy actions derive from executive orders alone, as in the colonial era, and there is the denial of election to the UT legislature.

The Centre gave itself the luxury to do all of these things while the Supreme Court has delayed beyond comprehension hearing the case of the reading down of Article 370 of the Constitution and the re-fashioning of an adjunct provision, the Article 35-A. It is the latter which had made ownership of immovable property, government employment, and state scholarships, the exclusive preserve of permanent residents of the state.

In May this year, new domicile rules were devised to let some people from outside J&K to apply for permanent resident status. This has now been widened to let anyone at all own immovable property. Such a situation does not obtain in other special category states such as Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

In 1950, the Sheikh Abdullah government had brought the Big Estates Abolition Act to permit the tillers of land of big zamindars beyond certain ceiling prescriptions to become owners, and it is this which had made the former state among the top performers on social and economic indices. Under the new land orders, this Act stands revoked, probably opening the door for corporate houses.

Jammu and Ladakh — like the Valley — have also reacted negatively to the new land rules though the Centre may have hoped for support from those quarters on religious grounds. The heart of the matter is the taking away of the former J&K’s autonomy, a condition laid down by Maharaja Hari Singh, and endorsed by Sheikh Abdullah, for joining India in 1947, rather than go with Pakistan.

Lt Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurates J&K International Arbitration Centre

Pandora’s box: Land-rule Change In The Valley
The state, expectedly, is up in arms against the proposal, viewing it as an attempt on the part of the BJP to engineer a demographic shift

The Telegraph, Kolkatta
October 30, 2020

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government is on record stating that the abrogation of Article 370, which provided the former state of Jammu and Kashmir with special provisions, was necessary because of two reasons. First, it would facilitate greater integration between the region and the rest of the country. Second, it would generate momentum for industry and development by doing away with provisions — only permanent residents were permitted to purchase land earlier — that the BJP deemed exclusionary.

Integration as a principle is certainly a desirable objective. There can be no objections, at least in theory, to the idea of Indian citizens purchasing land or residing in any part of the country. But this right cannot ride roughshod over the anxieties of local communities concerning ownership. This is the reason why special provisions are in place in the Constitution to grant protection to the rights of property of local or indigenous people not only in Kashmir — always the focus of the BJP’s divisive narrative of privileges — but also in other states. Article 371(A) honours Nagaland’s customs on land transfer and ownership; Article 371(G) extends similar privileges to Mizoram; sale and purchase of land and property is regulated by Article 371(F) in Sikkim as well. This protective armour goes to show that the founders of the Constitution were sensitive to the need of integration being predicated on collective consensus rather than unilateralism.

Of course the BJP’s comprehension of such wisdom is inadequate. This ignorance — an ideological wart — has been exposed, once again, by the Central notification permitting outsiders to purchase non-agricultural land in Jammu and Kashmir. The Valley, expectedly, is up in arms against the proposal, viewing it as an attempt on the part of the BJP to engineer a demographic shift. The absence of consultation with the people and their political representatives on such a sensitive issue has amplified their concerns. Interestingly, Hindu-dominated Jammu — a steadfast source of support for the BJP — is equally indignant: the Dogras are of the view that their identity is under threat. The resultant political churning, while being inimical to the BJP’s prospects, could be a rare occasion where Jammu and Kashmir are speaking in one voice. These developments reiterate the need for the framing of a national policy that would create uniform, equitable conditions for purchase of land while securing the rights of affected communities.

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