Before the repeal of Article 370 and Article 35-A in August last year, non-residents could not buy any immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir.

 A view of Lal Chowk covered in snow in Srinagar Jammu and Kashmir on Friday Dec 13 2019
news Law Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 15:28

The Union government has notified the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Fifth Order, 2020, which now allows people from across the country to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir.  

In a 111-page notification in Hindi and English, the Ministry of Home Affairs made several changes to the land laws, including one that allows use of agricultural land for setting up facilities of public purpose. The most important amendment has been made in the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act that deals with disposal of land with the Centre omitting the phrase "permanent resident of the state" from Section 17 of the law. This means, people who are not permanent residents of the state can purchase land.

Before the repeal of Article 370 and Article 35-A in August last year, non-residents could not buy any immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir. The latest changes have paved the way for non-residents to buy land in the union territory. However, there are several exemptions given in the Act which enable transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, including setting up of educational and healthcare facilities. The amendments do not allow transfer of agricultural land to non-agriculturists, which means agricultural land must be used for agricultural purposes only.

The notification has replaced Section 30 and Part VII of the State Land Acquisition Act, 1990 with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

Explaining the move, advocate Monika Kohli, who practises in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, said the notification was issued with the intent to harmoniously construe the laws with the laws applicable to the rest of India as the permanent resident certificate (PRC) was rendered infructuous with the repeal of the Constitution of J-K on August 5, 2019.

"Post the reorganisation of the state, the registering authority could not implement the new registration laws in the absence of a notification or a court order. Thereby PRC was a pre-requisite for registration of land, this notification has removed that anomaly," she said.

The BJP has said the amendments, which came over a year after the Centre nullified Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution, will open the "floodgates of development" and mark the beginning of a new era of progress and prosperity in the union territory. 

Former Jammu and Kashmir Advocate General Mohammad Ishaq Qadri said the amendments have opened the floodgates for people from outside Jammu and Kashmir to buy land. "Now there is no legal bar on purchase of land here by outsiders," he said.

However, mainstream political parties in the union territory have alleged that the new law is akin to putting the erstwhile state up "for sale." Soon after the notification was placed in public domain, angry reactions started pouring in from mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir.

National Conference vice president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said this was "unacceptable" as not even basic protections that are available in other states have been granted to the people of the union territory.

Noting that even basic requirements of domicile have been removed with the obvious intention of "altering the character of" the region, he said the "Centre has completely put JK for sale".

He said that the entire procedure should have been done with the consent of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and added "we are still a federal structure and in a federal structure, it is not a dictatorship."

Expressing surprise over the timing of the notification which came after the polls to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) were held, he said, "I can guarantee you if BJP had done this before the polls, they would have not won a single seat there. But through the backdoor, they have done this." The BJP on Monday won 15 seats in the 26-member LAHDC-Leh. 

The People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — an amalgam of seven mainstream parties in Jammu and Kashmir -- condemned the changes in the land laws and vowed to fight these on all fronts.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said it was a step to "disenfranchise" the people of Jammu and Kashmir. "Yet another step that's part of GOI's nefarious designs to disempower & disenfranchise people of JK. From the unconstitutional scrapping of Article 370 to facilitating loot of our natural resources and finally putting land in JK up for sale," she tweeted.

The Centre had in August last year revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into union territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress said the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, especially the youth, "feel cheated" by the move. It is "another betrayal" with the people of J&K by the BJP, the party said.

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