In a democratic setup what would be more distressing and unfortunate than snatching rights of its citizens. India, which is the largest democracy of the world, in the recent past, has witnessed numerous such instances, where citizens are being subjected to apparent harassment and undue humiliation, either by enacting anti-people laws or by snatching their identity. In Kashmir, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led Government is not leaving any stone unturned to seize special privileges of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which they had enjoyed before the abrogation of Article 370. The latest in the line of major developments is introduction of new land laws, which permit any national of Indian mainland to buy non-agricultural land in the Union territory of J&K. The new laws were implemented on 26th October 2020 with immediate effect. To promote and facilitate the purchase of land by outsiders, the government has also omitted any need for being a domicile or having a permanent resident certificate. These amended changes are significant since till now only permanent residents of J&K could buy land in the region. The Centres’ intention appears to completely change the face and character of the former J&K state by implementing more and more regressive laws prevalent in India, so when the Supreme Court of India (SC) takes up the scores of petitions pending with SC against “illegally” abrogation of Article 370, the change may become impossible. According to notification of the Ministry of Home Affairs ‘Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, 2020’ the domicile or permanent resident certificate requirement is no more needed for purchasing non-agricultural land in Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre government has completely reversed the promises made by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in the parliament at the time of scrapping Article 370. The assurances made at the floor of house in parliament over retaining the Land Laws in J&K may have been made to keep the people calm during the abrogation of Article 370. The order, however, maintained that agricultural land can only be purchased by agriculturalists or people engaged in farm-related activities. In fact, the notification in the official gazette shows that the reference to ‘permanent residents of the State’ has been removed from the laws. Land acquired by the government for industrial or commercial purposes can now be sold to anyone. The government has said that some protection of land will be there for agricultural land. “Agriculture land will not be given to anybody. But if someone wants to set up an industry, they will have to be given land. That will be done through industrial parks. For industrial areas we want that industries should come to J&K like other parts of the country so that development can take place and youth can seek employment.”, said Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor, Jammu and Kashmir on after the notification marked in the Gazette. Through Section 133 (H) in the Agrarian Reforms Act, the Centre has completely barred the sale of agricultural land to “non-agriculturist”, but it has provided several provisions under which sale can still happen. In amendments to laws, it is said that no person shall transfer land to any person other than the “Government, or its agencies and instrumentalities”. It has also, however, said that nothing shall prohibit the transfer of ownership of land for ‘contract farming’, or grant of lease or mortgage for loan. Meaning the agricultural land can be transferred with the government’s approval. The contract agriculture farming against which farmers are agitated and fighting all over the country that have also been introduced in UT J&K. According to the rules, “no sale, gift, exchange, or mortgage of any land will be valid in favour 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 technically means that once permission is granted, the agricultural land can also be sold, gifted, or mortgaged with specified terms. As per the rules, although agricultural land cannot be used for non-agricultural purposes in normal circumstances, it however can be done with prior permission from the government. The new 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”. This land can be used 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 new rules state. Some of the important acts that the Centre has abolished with regard to land rights included The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, Samvat 1995; The Jammu and Kashmir Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Samvat 2007; The Jammu and Kashmir Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1956; The Jammu and Kashmir Consolidation of Holding Act, 1962; The Jammu and Kashmir Land Improvement Schemes Act, 1972; The Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Fragmentation of Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960; The Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition of Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act, 1975; The Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy (Stay of Ejectment Proceedings) Act, 1966; The Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy Act, Svt.1980; and The Jammu and Kashmir Utilization of Lands Act, Svt. 2010. The introduction of the new land laws has caused great heartburn among the political parties even people of Jammu region have started feeling a bit insecure over the issue. With this move of the Centre government, the migration of people to J&K would also start. It is likely to ferment more resentment among the already angry political parties of J&K against the Centre government. The political leaders in J&K have termed it as “unacceptable”. The J&K National Conference vice-president and former CM Omar Abdullah called it a “dictatorial “move. “Basic protections that are available to similar states like Himachal Pradesh and other Hill states haven’t been given to us. Nobody can buy land there and in numerous other such states. J&K has been put up for sale. They want to alter the character of this place. In a federal structure they cannot overrule the people of J&K. This is not a dictatorship”, said Omar Abdullah. The PDP President Mehboob Mufti called it a move of putting the land in J&K for sale. “Yet another step that is part of GOI’s nefarious designs to disempowering & disenfranchise people of J&K. From the unconstitutional scrapping of Article 370 to facilitating loot of our natural resources and finally putting land in J&K up for sale”, tweeted Mehbooba Mufti. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) of six major mainstream prominent political parties in J&K have also strongly reacted against these land laws. “The unconstitutional measure is clearly designed as an attempt to pre-empt the outcome of the challenge before the Supreme Court. The assault on exclusive property rights apart, changes in urban development laws and creation of Security Zones is bound to prejudicially affect the environment and ecosystem in environmentally fragile regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh in utter disregard of grave environmental concerns.”, said the statement issued by Alliance for Gupkar declaration. Separatist parties and groups who were in hibernation for some time in the past have also condemned the government. Meanwhile to give it a communal colour, the government under the influence of right wing party has also called for annulment of all land transfers that took place under the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 — also known as the Roshni Act — under which 20 lakh kanals or 2.5 lakh acres of land was transferred. The principal secretary and revenue department has been asked to work out a plan to retrieve large tracts of state land vested under the Act. According to the high court order, a total of 6,04,602 kanals (75,575 acres) of state land had been regularised and transferred to the occupants. This included 5,71,210 kanals (71,401 acres) in Jammu and 33,392 kanals (4174 acres) in the Kashmir province. “Principal Secretary to Government, Revenue Department shall also work out the modalities and plan to evict encroachers from such State Land and retrieve the State land within a period of six months. Principal Secretary, Revenue Department J&K shall work out a set of modalities for handling the money received for these lands after annulment,” the J&K government said in a statement last Saturday. According to the order, complete identities of influential persons, including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, businessmen etc, their relatives or persons holding benami for them, who have derived benefit under the Roshni Act will be made public within a period of one month. The government order, Saturday, was taken by implementing the J&K High Court’s 9 October ruling which declared the Roshni Act as unconstitutional, contrary to laws and unsustainable. What is the Roshni Act? The Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 or the Roshni Act was enacted by the Farooq Abdullah government in 2001. Under the Act, state land that had been encroached upon has to be regularised or legally transferred to the occupants against payment at market rates. The Act had set 1990 as the cut-off year for encroachment on state land. The idea of allotting was to raise Rs 25,000 crore to build infrastructure for generating electricity. Therefore, it was also called or named as the Roshni Act. But the Centres proposes not to regularise land occupied long ago. However, it is pertinent to mention here that the regularisation of land to the occupants have been done in many states and UTs in other parts of the country plus it is a state’s prerogative of the elected state government to take such decision but here the land occupants have been dubbed/declared as “encroachers”, in likelihood would be removed and possession taken by the UT Government, controlled by Centre through its governor. The writer is a senior journalist and Indo-Pak peace activist.