The Government of India on Monday (October 25, 2020) issued a notification stating that any Indian citizen can now buy land, except agricultural, in municipal areas of Jammu and Kashmir without being a domicile.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the ‘Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, 2020’ shall come into force with immediate effect, and “will encourage development in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir”. After the J&K’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution was withdrawn on 5 August 2019, the reorganization Act bifurcated the erstwhile state into two union territories — J&K and Ladakh.
Under the notification, for the first time, the spouse of a J&K domicile shall also be deemed as a domicile. Earlier, spouses of Permanent Resident Cardholders were considered at par but were not considered domiciles. Children of central government officials posted for over ten years in Jammu and Kashmir will also continue to be considered domiciles.
Political parties in J&K have called the notification “unacceptable” and said it will hit the small land-owning farmers in the union territory.
Agricultural land can be sold, repurposed with govt permission. Reacting to the notification, J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said in Srinagar Tuesday agricultural land has been reserved for farmers and no one will interfere with it.
“On the areas identified as ‘industrial areas’, we want good industries to come up here, like in the rest of the country, so that there is progress, development, and employment,” Sinha said.
A senior government official said even non-agricultural land will not be randomly handed over to industries.
“We cannot get polluting and other hazardous industries in this pristine environment,” the official said, adding that a separate explanatory notification regarding the land laws will be issued soon.
However, the rules state that agricultural land can be transferred with the government’s approval. According to the rules, “no sale, gift, exchange, or mortgage of any land will be valid in favor of a person who is not an agriculturist, unless the government or an officer authorized by it in this behalf may grant permission for the same”.
This means that once permission is granted, an agriculturist can sell, gift, or mortgage his land to a non-agriculturist, provided nothing bars the lease of that land under the provisions of any law.
According to the notification, although agricultural land cannot be used for non-agricultural purposes in the normal course, it can be done with prior permission from the government, specifically, the district collector. The permission for conversion of land notified as ‘Saffron Belt’ is made according to the procedure prescribed under the Jammu and Kashmir Saffron Act, 2007.
The notification further states that the use of agricultural land for making residential accommodation or grain storage cannot exceed four hundred square meters in total.
“The holder of any agriculture land may construct a residential house or erect farm building, grain storage, primary processing of agriculture produce, wells or tanks or make any other improvements thereon for residential purpose or agricultural improvement, on intimation to the tehsildar concerned,” the rules state, adding that the plinth area of such building or improvement shall not exceed 400 square meters in total.
“Also, any attempt to convert agriculture land for non-agriculture use by contravening the aforesaid provisos by way of fragmenting the land or otherwise shall be considered a violation of the provisions of this act,” the rules state.
An owner or occupant who wishes to use agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes can do so after payment of conversion charges as prescribed by the board. No such permission, however, will be granted in the areas notified as eco-sensitive zones by the government.
Land that is used to grow fuel or fodder cannot be used for any other purpose, except with the permission of the district collector.
The rules add that any non-agriculturist in whose favor land has been transferred can use it only for non-agricultural purposes, and shall put the land to use only for which it has been transferred, within a period of five years.
The government has said this period may be extended by consent of the government for a longer period not exceeding two years on the payment of a penalty, which will be equal to 1 percent per month of the value of the land calculated on the basis of notified stamp duty rates applicable for such land.
“In case such person fails to put the land for its intended use or diverts, without the permission of the government, the said use for any other purpose or transfer by way of sale, gift or otherwise, the land so purchased by him shall vest in the government free from all encumbrances,” the rules say.
The rules also state 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”, for direct operational and training requirements of armed forces.
“This area will have to be declared and the government may satisfy itself about the reasons cited for declaring the area as a strategic area and will have such area notified accordingly with such conditions as may be required,” the rules state
Jammu and Kashmir’s political parties have called the amendments to land ownership rights “unacceptable”.
J&K National Conference vice-president and former CM Omar Abdullah said the decision would hit small land-owners.
“Unacceptable amendments to the land ownership laws of J&K. Even the tokenism of domicile has been done away with when purchasing non-agricultural land & transfer of agricultural land has been made easier. J&K is now up for sale & the poorer small landholding owners will suffer,” Abdullah tweeted
Senior Peoples Democratic Party leader Naeem Akhtar added: “The land grab starts now. And Jammu will be the first stop. On that at least the two regions must unite.”
Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari, president of the newly-launched J&K Apni Party, reiterated its position about the restoration of statehood to J&K, along with comprehensive domicile rights on land and jobs for its residents. Bukhari said the party would go through the gazette notification and take up its reservations with the country’s top leadership.
“From Day One, our party’s stand has been very clear on these vital issues. People should understand that our constitutionally guaranteed rights have been taken away long back and whatever was left was snatched on 5 August 2019 when Articles 370 and 35A were abrogated,” he said.
Bukhari added that any laws that do not safeguard the interests and rights of the people of J&K would be unacceptable to the Apni Party.
“It would have been better for such laws of an urgent nature to be dealt with in consultation with a duly elected government in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, referring to the fact that the J&K assembly was dissolved in June 2019 and no elections have been held since.