The disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where only locals could buy and sell land, is no longer out of bounds for investors from mainland India, as New Delhi omits the clause of obtaining domicile status.
The government of India amended the land laws of India-administered Jammu and Kashmir by omitting the land protection clause on Monday, which allowed only permanent residents to own properties in the internationally recognised disputed region.
The amendment allows outsiders to buy non-agricultural, urban lands and set up industries.
The decision will also remove any restriction of purchasing the farmland by non-Jammu and Kashmiri agriculturists.
Furthermore, there will be no limits on the quantum of area to build any structure like a residence or a shop.
The new amendments will not be applicable to Ladakh, which was part of Jammu and Kashmir until New Delhi unilaterally revoked the nominal autonomy of the region on August 5 2019, and sliced the region in two domains. Since then, Ladakh, an area claimed by China, became a separate union territory.
New Delhi's move prompted harsh criticism from Kashmiri separatist leaders as well as politicians associated with India.
All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a separatist group that seeks the UN-sanctioned right to self determination, described the move as a push to change the disputed region's Muslim majority demography.
In a press statement, the group said the Indian government lifted the demographic protection "to snatch our land, destroy our identity and turn us into a minority in our own land”.
Pro-India politicians, who have always taken pride in India's secular democracy, but of late expressed their disillusionment with the country's leadership, are criticising the move as much as the Kashmiri separatists do.
“Jammu and Kashmir has been put up for sale and left bereft of any basic protections. The amendments add to the fear of demographic changes. They want to alter the character of this place,” said Omar Abdullah, pro-India Kashmiri politician and former chief minister of the disputed territory.
Other Kashmiri politicians, who do not question India's rule in Kashmir but protest last year's removal of the region's autonomy, also denounced New Delhi's decision of allowing outsiders to purchase properties in Jammu and Kashmir.
These disgruntled politicians recently formed a united front called The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, with an aim to regain the special rights guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a legal bridge that became the basis of Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India under extraordinary circumstances in 1947.
The Kashmiri leaders now defined New Delhi's latest move as a “huge betrayal.”
“It is a massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and is grossly unconstitutional,” the alliance’s spokesperson Sajad Lone said.
“The permanent residents of the State” section has been removed from laws for economically weaker sections and low-income groups with a notification published in the official gazette.
The dimensions for these sites, which were fixed and specified, can be prescribed by the government. Moreover, government owned sites for industrial or commercial purposes can be sold to anyone from out of Jammu and Kashmir.
Before that, only permanent citizens of Jammu and Kashmir could buy these lands.
“Rest assured, 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,” Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, told The Indian Express.
He also added the agricultural lands will remain its main purpose.
“For industrial areas that are being identified, we want that industries should come to J&K like other parts of the country so that development can take place and youth can get employment.”
On the other hand, J&K Chief Secretary, BVR Subrahmanyan, said “we don’t want a polluting industry, we don’t want steel and iron. In the next 2-3 days, everything will get clarified.”
According to amendments, the government can also “allow transfer of land in favour of any person, institution or corporation, for industrial or commercial or housing purposes or agricultural purposes or any other public purpose".