The Centre on Tuesday cleared the decks for people from across the country to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir by amending several laws, a move which mainstream political parties in the union territory said was akin to putting the erstwhile state up "for sale".
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, said the amendments, which came over a year after the Centre nullified Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution, will open the "floodgates of development" and mark the beginning of a new era of progress and prosperity in the union territory.
In a 111-page notification in Hindi and English, the ministry of home affairs made several changes to the land laws, including one that allows use of agricultural land for setting up facilities of public purpose.
The most important amendment has been made in the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act that deals with disposal of land with the Centre omitting the phrase "permanent resident of the state" from Section 17 of the law.
Before the repeal of Article 370 and Article 35-A in August last year, non-residents could not buy any immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir. The latest changes have paved the way for non-residents to buy land in the union territory.
Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha told reporters that the amendments do not allow transfer of agricultural land to non-agriculturists.
However, there are several exemptions given in the Act which enable transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, including setting up of educational and healthcare facilities.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Advocate General Mohammad Ishaq Qadri said the amendments have opened the floodgates for people from outside Jammu and Kashmir to buy land. "Now there is no legal bar on purchase of land here by outsiders," he said.
Soon after the notification was placed in public domain, angry reactions started pouring in from mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir who termed the move an attempt by the Centre to "put JK up for sale".
National Conference vice president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said this was "unacceptable" as not even basic protections that are available in other states have been granted to the people of the union territory.
Noting that even basic requirements of domicile have been removed with the obvious intention of "altering the character of" the region, he said the "Centre has completely put JK for sale".
He said that the entire procedure should have been done with the consent of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and added "we are still a federal structure and in a federal structure, it is not a dictatorship."
Expressing surprise over the timing of the notification which came after the polls to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council were held, he said, "I can guarantee you if BJP had done this before the polls, they would have not won a single seat there. But through the backdoor, they have done this."
The BJP on Monday won 15 seats in the 26-member LAHDC-Leh.
The People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration -- an amalgam of seven mainstream parties in Jammu and Kashmir -- condemned the changes in the land laws and vowed to fight these on all fronts.
Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said it was a step to "disenfranchise" the people of Jammu and Kashmir. "Yet another step that's part of GOI's nefarious designs to disempower & disenfranchise people of JK. From the unconstitutional scrapping of Article 370 to facilitating loot of our natural resources and finally putting land in JK up for sale," she tweeted.
The notification has replaced Section 30 and Part VII of the State Land Acquisition Act, 1990 with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
Explaining the move, advocate Monika Kohli, who practises in the Jammu and Kashmir high court, said the notification was issued with the intent to harmoniously construe the laws with the laws applicable to the rest of India as the permanent resident certificate was rendered infructuous with the repeal of the Constitution of J-K on August 5, 2019.
"Post the reorganisation of the state the registering authority could not implement the new registration laws in the absence of a notification or a court order thereby PRC was a pre-requisite for registration of land, this notification has removed that anomaly," she said.
The Centre had in August last year revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into union territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Congress said the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, especially the youth, "feel cheated" by the move. It is "another betrayal" with the people of JK by the BJP, the party said.
Senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta said, "The amendments in the land laws will mark the beginning of a new era of development in the Union Territory with new avenues waiting for the residents to become part of this new journey of progress and prosperity which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to one and all."
"The changes (in laws) will open the floodgates of development in Jammu and Kashmir, something the region had been denied in the past over 70 years due to myopic and discriminatory policies of the Congress and other regional mainstream parties which ruled the erstwhile state at different points of time," he said.