Centre throws open J&K for land sale, Gupkar parties term it huge betrayal

National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah said, “J&K has been put up for sale and left bereft of any basic protections. The amendments add to the fear of demographic changes. They want to alter the character of this place.”

National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, former CM Omar Abdullah and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti address the press after the meeting of the Gupkar signatories (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

IN A DECISION that mainstream political parties in Kashmir said stokes fears of demographic change, the Centre on Monday amended and notified land laws for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and explicitly omitted the protection earlier available to its ‘permanent residents’.

The amended laws open up urban or non-agricultural land for purchase by outsiders, permit contract farming on agricultural lands, provide for setting up of an industrial development corporation, and also insulate zones identified for development from application of various laws that earlier ensured ownership remained with ‘permanent residents’.

The laws, as amended, do not place any restrictions on purchase of farm land by non-J&K agriculturists, and also do not impose limits on the quantum of area for building a residence or a shop, as it exists in certain hilly states including Himachal Pradesh.

These new amendments are, however, not applicable to the Union Territory of Ladakh.

National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah said, “J&K has been put up for sale and left bereft of any basic protections. The amendments add to the fear of demographic changes. They want to alter the character of this place.”

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (an alliance of political parties including National Conference, PDP, CPI, CPM and People’s Conference) described the Centre’s action as a “huge betrayal”. “It is a massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and is grossly unconstitutional,” said the alliance’s spokesperson Sajad Lone, who is also the President of People’s Conference.

A notification published in the official gazette on Monday shows that 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. Further, the government can now prescribe dimensions for such sites; earlier they were fixed and specified in the law itself.

Land acquired by the government for industrial or commercial purposes can now be allowed to be disposed of or sold to anyone. Earlier, only ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir could purchase such land.

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While the new clauses technically open Jammu and Kashmir for purchase of land by outsiders, the government may provide some protection through notifications.

Earlier in the day, Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor, Jammu and Kashmir, told The Indian Express, “Ekdum aashwast rahiye, kisi ko zameen nahin dee jayegi (Rest assured, land will not be given to anybody). But if someone wants to set up an industry they will have to be given land. That will be done through industrial parks.”

He said while agricultural land would remain reserved for agriculturists, “for industrial areas – that are being identified – we want that industries should come to J&K like other parts of the country so that development can take place and youth can get employment.”

On the setting up of industrial units, J&K Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyan said, “We don’t want polluting industry, we don’t want steel and iron. In the next 2-3 days, everything will get clarified.”

In amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, the Centre has said no person shall transfer land to any person other than the “Government, or its agencies and instrumentalities”. Earlier, it was limited to “Government of Jammu and Kashmir”. It has also said that nothing shall prohibit transfer of ownership of land for ‘contract farming’, or grant of lease or mortgage for loan. Earlier, it was limited to mortgage for loan.

Some crucial amendments have also been made to the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, 1970. The Centre has introduced Section 11A to the Act which protects notified development zones from application of Land Revenue Act and Agrarian Reforms Act.

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“Upon coming into operation of the master plan or a zonal plan, the land use permitted in the area covered thereunder shall only be as provided in terms of such master or zonal plan. The provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act, Samvat 1996 or any other law for the time being in force requiring any permission to change the usage of any land, shall not be applicable to any land so covered,” states Section 11A. However, some protection is extended through amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act.

Through insertion of Section 133 H in the Agrarian Reforms Act, the Centre has completely barred sale of agricultural land to “non-agriculturist”, but it has provided for several situations under which sale can still happen.

It has said that such land can be transferred to Government or “a Company or a Corporation or a Board established by or under a statute and owned and controlled by the Government or a Government Company as defined in the Companies Act, 2013” provided it is used for ‘public purposes’. Such transfers can also happen in favour of public trusts for ‘charitable purposes’.

The government can also decide to transfer agricultural land in favour of “a person or an institution for the purpose of promotion of healthcare or senior secondary or higher or specialised education”.

The Government can “allow transfer of land, as defined in the said section, in favour of any person, institution or corporation, for such industrial or commercial or housing purposes or agricultural purposes or any other public purpose as may be notified by the Government for industrial and commercial development of the Union Territory.”

However, all such “non-agriculturists” would have to use the allotted land only for purposes intended during allotment and would never be recognised as agriculturists.

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The Centre has also diluted restrictions on conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural land. Earlier such conversion could only be done only with the permission of the Revenue Minister. It can now be done with the permission of the District Collector.

Through insertion of a new section, special protection has been given to grazing land or those that grow fuel and fodder, albeit they too can be converted with the Collector’s permission.

The Centre has also expanded Section 13 which deals with “permission to be taken for development” from the authority concerned. It has said the Authority may “declare any zone or part thereof as development area for the purposes of this Act”.

Through amendments to Section 16 of the Act, the government has opened doors for acquisition of land for purposes of development under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

In Section 17 too, the government has removed the reference to ‘permanent residents’. The new reading of the Section states that the concerned Authority may dispose of any land acquired by the government to anyone on conditions it deems fit for development.

The Centre has introduced a new chapter to the Act for establishment of Jammu and Kashmir Industrial Development Corporation. The function of JKIDC would be “to promote and assist in the rapid and orderly establishment, growth and development of industries in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir” where it shall develop land for establishment of industries, and establish and manage industrial estates.

JKIDC shall have the power “to acquire and hold such property, both movable and immovable as the Corporation may deem necessary”, “to purchase by agreement or to take on lease or under any form of tenancy any land, to erect such buildings and to execute such other works as may be necessary” and “to make available buildings on hire or sale to industrialists or persons intending to start industrial undertakings”.

In Section 3, which deals with the notification of local area for development and with the constitution of a development authority, the Centre has inserted a new clause that gives government powers to declare an area as “strategic” on the request of the armed forces.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the Government may on the written request of an Army officer not below the rank of Corp Commander, declare an area as Strategic Area within a local area, only for direct operational and training requirements of armed forces, which may be excluded from the operation of this Act and rules/ regulations made there under in the manner and to the extent specified in the declaration and the Government may satisfy itself about the reasons cited for declaring the area as strategic area and will have such area notified accordingly with such conditions as may be required.”

Some of the key acts that the Centre has abolished with regard to land rights include The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, Samvat 1995; The Jammu and Kashmir Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Samvat 2007; The Jammu and Kashmir Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1956; The Jammu and Kashmir Consolidation of Holding Act, 1962; The Jammu and Kashmir Land Improvement Schemes Act, 1972; The Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Fragmentation of Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960; The Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition of Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act, 1975; The Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy (Stay of Ejectment Proceedings) Act, 1966; The Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy Act, Svt.1980; and The Jammu and Kashmir Utilization of Lands Act, Svt. 2010.

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