The Ministry of Home Affairs, by an order of October 2020, introduced amendments to fourteen laws of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and repealed twelve others.
Critical changes were made to significant state laws that govern the sale, ownership and purchase of land in the former state. These are the J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996, the J&K Land Grants Act, 1960, the J&K Development Act, 1970 and the Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976.
The most apparent change was made to the J&K Development Act, which detached the term permanent resident of the state without determining any substitute such as domicile or other arrangement for managing land ownership, in this manner, allowing the acquisition of land by any person.
In addition, while characterizing the key regions of J&K, Section 3 of the law provides that the public authority may, upon written request of an army official not having the post of corps commander, declare any region as a strategic area within a local area, for direct operational and training needs.
The notice of permanent resident of the state was also omitted from Section 17 of this law, relating to the land disposal by an authority.
Two of the laws that were repealed, The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, 1938, and The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 provided protections over landholdings to holders of permanent resident certificate or permanent residents, as characterized by the laws of the former state of J&K.
Section 4 of the J&K Land Alienation Act states that the transfer of land to anyone who is not a state subject is prohibited. The subjects of the State were the holders of a certificate of permanent resident within the meaning of article 35A of the Constitution.
Likewise, Article 20A of the Law on the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act further explicitly limited the exchange of land to non-state subjects. No land will be transferred to tillers who are not subjects of the State as defined in Judicial Department Notification No. 1-L / 84, dated April 20, 1927.
Despite repeated assurances from the top bureaucracy of the Union Territory and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha that agricultural land owned by the regional population will be protected, the sections of the October 2020 order have raised concerns.
Segment 133-A of the J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996 states that the land that is being utilized for agricultural purposes shall be utilized for non-agricultural purposes only with the permission of the district collector.
In addition, sub-section 2 of Section 113-A provides that an occupant or an owner who wishes to put his agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes as provided for in the regional plan, the improvement plan or the end strategy by and large, development plan or master plan, as the case may be, will do so after payment of the conversion costs prescribed by the Board from time to time.
Hence, either through payment of conversion fee or with the permission from a district collector, agricultural land can be re-purposed for non-agricultural usage.