The ground beneath changes for J&K

The ground beneath changes for Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu: Apni Party activists clash with police during their protest march against the amendment in Land Law, in Jammu, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (PTI Photo)(PTI29-10-2020_000068B)

The new central order on Kashmir, notified on Tuesday, would make fundamental changes to land and property relations in the state-turned-Union Territory like few other government decisions have done in the past. A similar action of long-term impact was the land reform enactment of the Sheikh Abdullah government in 1950. The present order will overturn what have been among the most progressive land reforms in any state in the country.

It enables any Indian citizen to buy non-agricultural land in the UT, without being a permanent resident or domicile. The government can also decide any area as “strategic’’ and take it over for use of the armed forces. As many as 38 state laws have been revoked or amended to facilitate the working of the new order. The revocation of Article 370 and 35A last year had changed the political status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Union of India, the present order operationalises it on the ground, directly affecting life there. 

Political parties in the UT, except the BJP, have opposed the changes and strongly condemned them. The people of Jammu would also not be happy with the new order. Most parties fear it as a measure to facilitate the large-scale acquisition of land by people from other parts of the country, including corporates, in service of a political project to change J&K’s demography and extinguish Kashmiri identity.

It is a matter of surprise that, in the process, the long-standing law under which major beneficial land reforms were carried out in the erstwhile state has been abolished now. It has been pointed out that the new order is in violation of the promises made to the people of Kashmir by the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister.

The most glaring deficiency of the new order is that it has been issued without consultation with, not to speak of the consent of, the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no elected, representative body functioning in J&K and so there is a question mark over not just its acceptability but its very legitimacy. A decision of such import should have been made by the state Assembly or should have been endorsed by it.

The legality of the decision may be especially questioned because the legality of the abrogation of J&K’s special status under Article 370 itself has not been settled by the court. It should also be noted that the people of J&K now do not have the land rights which those in Himachal Pradesh and some North-East states have. The latest order is bound to fuel more discontent in Kashmir. And that’s not a good thing for the country.