WHILE the Centre has held the Kashmir card close to its chest despite a flurry of action over the last few days, top state government officials have been exploring options to modify Article 35A, which confers special rights to the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
The options include creating categories of land and allowing outsiders to purchase land in certain cases, and placing restrictions on the quantum of land based on the usage. To curtail misuse, they said, Article 35A can borrow from land laws in hilly states such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
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A government source said, “There are issues about selling agricultural land in many hilly states. So, this can be kept out of bounds. But land may be sold for businesses, and other activities, based on the local employment these will generate.”
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“These are options being explored,” a top state government source, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express, adding that they met a cross-section of leaders in the Valley, including the civilian and security establishment.
According to the sources, these are ideas “not to be acted upon immediately”, but which can be undertaken without having to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, which recognises the special status of Jammu and Kashmir after it became a part of India.
For the state’s residents and political parties, any dilution of Article 35A will be an assault on the state’s autonomy and will be seen as an attempt to change the Valley’s demography.
For the last one year, the new administration under the Governor has come hard on separatists, arresting many of them, removed the J&K Bank Chairman for alleged wrongdoings, and simultaneously attempted to bring governance to the grassroots by holding panchayat elections.
A top government official said one of the reasons why the government continues to be the biggest employer in the state is because companies and outsiders cannot purchase land. In fact, this has led to perverse outcomes with many state government rules being bent and subverted just to give permanent employment to residents in all institutions and establishments funded by the state, an official said.
Article 35A – currently under challenge and being heard in the Supreme Court – has been “a big deterrent in attracting private investment, and creating more jobs for locals, putting the entire burden of employment generation on the state”, another official said. But National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said “lack of private investment” is a ruse. “In the past, land has been leased to private companies on a long-term basis with provisions for automatic renewal,” he pointed out.
The sources said the government would be keen to get on board political parties in the state to make a cogent case for changes in Article 35A. “Attempts will be made to talk to political parties. We need to discuss how this would benefit the people of the state,” a source told The Indian Express.
Citing the example of Himachal Pradesh, an official said Section 118 of the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972, restricts transfer of land to a person who is not an agriculturist of the state. Under Rule 38-A of the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Rules, there are various limits placed on the quantum of area for building a residential house, construction of a shop, industrial projects, socially useful activities and public use facilities.