Jammu and Kashmir leaders on Tuesday condemned the Centre’s new land laws for the Union Territory. The new law allows any Indian citizen to buy land in the region, sparking fears among locals as it was earlier meant only for permanent residents under Article 370.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah criticised the amendments. “Unacceptable amendments to the land ownership laws of Jammu and Kashmir,” he tweeted. “Even the tokenism of domicile has been done away with when purchasing non-agricultural land and transfer of agricultural land has been made easier. J&K is now up for sale and the poorer small land holding owners will suffer.”

Abdullah said the new laws were notified because the Bharatiya Janata Party cannot tolerate a Muslim majority state in the country. “They are intended to change the demography of this place,” he told India Today. “Why should the Army have the right to notify any land? The country is under a civilian rule, not a military one.”

Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti called the move a “nefarious” design by the Centre to “disempower and disenfranchise” the people of the Union territory. “After failing on all fronts to provide roti and rozgar [food and employment] to people, BJP is creating such laws to whet the appetite of a gullible electorate,” she said in a tweet. “Such brazen measures reinforce the need of people of all three provinces of J&K to fight unitedly.”

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration – an amalgam of seven mainstream parties in Jammu and Kashmir – called the Centre’s new order a huge betrayal. In a statement issued by spokesperson Sajad Lone, it said the decision was a massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and grossly unconstitutional.

“The repeal of Big Estates Abolition Act – first ever agrarian reform in subcontinent, is an insult to the sacrifices of thousands of freedom fighters and farmers who fought against an autocratic and oppressive rule and a crude attempt to rewrite history,” the alliance said in its statement. “The order made in exercise of powers under Reorganisation Act, 2019, it is stated, is yet another brazen violation of the principal of constitutional proprietary of fundamental importance to a constitutional democracy.”

“The unconstitutional measure is clearly designed as an attempt to preempt 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 environment and ecosystem in environmentally fragile regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh in utter disregard of grave environmental concerns.”

— The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration

Secretary General of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Sitaram Yechury said that the move was a “loot” of Jammu and Kashmir’s resources and landscapes. “Having destroyed all people’s democratic structures, will the next step be forcible land acquisition to hand over to cronies & fatten the purses of the ruling party at Centre?” Yechury asked in a tweet.

The new laws

In its order, the home ministry said the new laws will be called the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, 2020. It added that it will come into effect immediately. The central government is likely to notify a set of separate land laws for Ladakh soon.

The Narendra Modi government’s removal of special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 opened the door for outsiders to buy land and property, get government jobs and attend institutes of higher education. The law had empowered the government of the former state to define “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir and reserve certain rights for them.

The notification stated that the government may, on the written request of an Army officer not below the rank of Corp Commander, declare an area “strategic” within a local area. This can only be for the direct operational and training requirements of the Armed forces, which may be excluded from the operation of this Act and rules and regulations made there under in the manner and to the extent.