The Union home ministry on Tuesday notified rules allowing outsiders to buy non-agricultural land in Jammu & Kashmir more than a year after the region's special status under Articles 370 and 35A was scrapped, and it was split into two Union territories.
People from outside the state were barred from buying or owning immovable property there, settle permanently, or avail themselves of state-sponsored scholarship schemes before the nullification of Article 35A, which gave special rights to the Jammu & Kashmir's permanent residents.
Issuing a gazette notification, the government has omitted the phrase "permanent resident of the state" from Section 17 of the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act that deals with the disposal of land in the Union territory.
In subsection 2, the notification substitutes the "whole of the State" with the "whole of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir". It also notifies to omit "being permanent resident of the State", paving the way for everyone to buy land.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said that agricultural land has been reserved for farmers.
"Agricultural land has been reserved for farmers and no outsider is going to come into that. We are identifying industrial areas and we surely want that industries come here like other states of the country, so that this place is developed and youths get jobs," Sinha said at a press conference.
The notification evoked strong reactions from mainstream politicians of the region who said they would fight it as the order was aimed to disempower the people of J&K.
"Unacceptable amendments to the land ownership laws of J&K. Even the tokenism of domicile has been done away with when purchasing non-agricultural land & transfer of agricultural land has been made easier. J&K is now up for sale & the poorer small land holding owners will suffer," tweeted National Conference vice-president and former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah.
"Interesting that the Centre waited till the elections to LAHDC had concluded & the BJP had won a majority before putting Ladakh up for sale. This is what Ladakhis got for trusting the assurances of the BJP," Omar tweeted.
The Bharatiya Janata Party won 15 out of 26 seats in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council on Monday.
Peoples Democratic Party president and vice-president of the People's Alliance for the Gupkar declaration, Mehbooba Mufti, said the order was aimed at disempowering local people.
"Yet another step that's part of GOI's nefarious designs to disempower & disenfranchise people of J&K. From the unconstitutional scrapping of Article 370 to facilitating loot of our natural resources & finally putting land in J&K up for sale," she tweeted.
"After failing on all fronts to provide roti & rozgar to people, BJP is creating such laws to whet the appetite of a gullible electorate. Such brazen measures reinforces the need of people of all three provinces of J&K to fight unitedly," she tweeted further.
The J&K unit of the BJP said the move would bring about development in the region. The J&K Peoples Conference said, "We are awaiting a collective response on this matter."
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah had assured former legislators of J&K who met them under the leadership of Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari that concerns of the people vis-a-vis land and jobs would be taken seriously.
Bukhari on Tuesday reiterated his party's position vis-à-vis the restoration of statehood to J&K along with comprehensive domicile rights on land and jobs for its residents.
"The party will go through the gazette notification issued by the Union government today with regard to land rights in J&K and would take up its reservations before the top leadership in the country," he said, adding that any laws that do not safeguard the interests and rights of people of J&K would be unacceptable to the party. "Better would have been such laws of urgent nature should have been left to or dealt with in consultation with the duly elected government in Jammu & Kashmir," he said.