BJP, Cong defend Himachal land law

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with New Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Jairam Thakur. (PTI Photo)

Both the Congress and the BJP on Tuesday defended a Himachal Pradesh law that places restrictions on buying land in the state, saying there is no comparison with the provisions under Articles 370 and 35A that stopped outsiders from owning property in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Centre on Monday revoked the special status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir over a range of subjects under the two Acts. But restrictions, mostly under Article 371, on buying land and property by outsiders in a few other states remain.

Himachal Pradesh minister Suresh Bhardwaj said those opposing the revocation of J&K’s special status are spreading “misinformation” about the Himachal law.

Section 118 of Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972 is entirely different from the now-scrapped provisions in Article 370 and Article 35A, he said.

“First of all, let me make it clear that this section applies to all non-agriculturists, whether they are Himachalis or non-Himachalis,” he told PTI.

Anybody can buy a flat in the state. But non-agriculturists, Himachalis or non-Himachalis, need the state government permission if they want to buy land for a business or for building a home, he said.

The section bars transfer of land to non-agriculturists without the permission of the state government.

The Congress too defended Section 118.

Himachal Congress president Kuldeep Singh Rathore said the law had been enacted to safeguard the interests of small farmers in the state.

He said anyone can buy land for constructing a house or setting up a business after justifying it before the state government.

He alleged that the state’s BJP government is trying to relax the section 118 norms to provide land to those industrialists who arranged funds for the party during the recent parliamentary elections.

Rathore claimed that is why the state Congress has launched a “Himachal Bachao” campaign on Congress leader Yashwant Singh Parmar's birth anniversary on August 4. The Act was passed in 1972 during Parmar’s tenure.

Sub-section 1 of Section 118 in Chapter XI of the Himachal Act says no transfer of land in any manner shall be valid if it is in favour of a person who is not an agriculturist.

However, subsection 2 (g) gives non-agriculturists the right to purchase a house, or land for building a house, from the Himachal Pradesh Housing and Urban Development Authority (HIMUDA) -- if the state government gives them permission.

Suresh Bhardwaj, who is the state’s education minister, also said the law was enacted to save forests, tribal customs and the interests of small farmers and the poor.

In Jammu and Kashmir women who had married outside the state were not allowed to buy land or flats in that state when Article 370 and Article 35A were applicable, but there is no such restriction in Himachal Pradesh, he added.

A number of non-Himachalis including Lt Gen (retired) Ranjit Singh Dayal, former Punjab DGP K P S Gill and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have built homes in the state after getting permission. 

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