J&K: Row Over New Land Rules Intensifies as Parties, Trade Bodies Oppose Move
Srinagar: Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir and trade bodies have expressed serious concerns over the Union Territory (UT) administration’s new Land Grant Rules, 2022, following which all outgoing lessees will have to hand over possession of leased land to the authorities.
The administration has claimed that the changes in land laws will benefit common people and replace what they referred to as previous “regressive legislations”.
The changes have, however, been widely condemned by the regional political leadership, who termed the plan as “arbitrary” and against the interests of people of the region.
According to the fresh changes, all outgoing lessees, except in the case of subsisting or expired leases for residential purposes, shall immediately handover the possession of land to the government or face eviction. The rules state that all leases – except subsisting or expired residential leases – shall not be renewed and shall stand determined.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI). the key representative of businesses in the UT, on Thursday said they held a meeting with various trade associations, hoteliers, restaurant owners and other stakeholders on their request regarding the order issued by the government’s revenue department.
“The delegation expressed their anguish regarding the above order and spoke about its adverse impact on the livelihood and employability of people in J&K,” KCCI said in a statement.
Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of KCCI, said the concerns of all business sectors will be taken up with the government, and urged senior administrative officials, including the Lt Governor, to look into the matter taking people’s livelihood into consideration.
“The government of the day have been asserting that they are working to end unemployment. They should review whether this decision might result in sudden unemployment of people,” Ashiq Ahmed told NewsClick.
‘Plan to Settle Outsiders’
Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and National Conference leader, termed the move as “unfortunate” adding that it seems like a “plan to settle outsiders.”
"What is the need of evicting people or snatching land from them. The leaseholders should have the first right to renew, or refuse lease. It seems that the order is clear that the government wants to snatch land from locals and hand it over to outsiders," he told reporters on the sidelines of a function.
The move was also criticised by People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, who termed it a “sorry state of affairs”.
After the two former chief ministers criticised the decision, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Altaf Thakur hit out at them, stating that the land lease would benefit “genuine people” instead of “blue-eyed” people backed by the two parties.
The decision was also vehemently opposed by other political parties, including Apni Party, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference and Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The Maharaja government’s J&K Alienation of the Land Act, 1938, due to which non-locals were barred from buying property and agricultural land could not be transferred, was continued by successive governments, reserving rights over land for locals. That is what BJP has undone.
The government in Jammu and Kashmir first introduced new land laws in October 2020, subsequent to the changes made through the J&K Re-organisation Act, 2019. The laws were, however, opposed and seen as a move to disempower locals and implement a “demographic change” something that they have been reiterating since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A on August 5, 2019.
Senior CPI (M) leader M Y Tarigami has submitted a petition in the Supreme Court against the land laws. The former lawmaker said that the process of investment for industries, trade and other commercial activities hit a roadblock because of the Article 370 decision following which a propaganda was unleashed by BJP that no one could invest in Kashmir or take land on lease.
“It was happening earlier as well but was approved through a cabinet decision and the representatives of people would express their concerns in the Assembly. This time there is no cabinet or the legislative Assembly. Both the institutions are absent now and not even panchayat members or DDCs (District Development Councils) are involved,” Tarigami said.
Tarigami said that already a petition has been submitted in the Supreme court challenging the basis of these laws, which is likely to be considered soon. He also argued that the demand of UT first emerged from Ladakh, but people from both Leh and Kargil are now up in arms demanding Sixth Schedule.
“The new land policy is not at par with the rest of the country. It may well open a dark chapter of now blatantly ‘othering’ the Kashmiris. Lease rules across the world and in India are fairly simple and on similar lines. But these are different and not without motives,” JKPC president Sajad Lone tweeted.
Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari went on to call the new land laws "draconian" and "inhuman”. "We have never seen such laws anywhere in the world. People in whose possession the land was, are being evicted like this. This cannot stand the scrutiny of law,” Bukhari told media in Srinagar.
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