India makes controversial legal changes to allow outsiders to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir
India on Tuesday made controversial legal changes allowing Indian nationals who are not residents of Jammu and Kashmir to purchase non-agricultural land in the disputed region. Until Aug. 5 last year, when India stripped Kashmir of its autonomous status and divided it into two centrally ruled territories, outsiders could not buy the property or apply for government jobs.
India has amended a law in Jammu and Kashmir allowing Indian citizens to buy land in the disputed territory, said officials, sparking opposition criticism about a steady erosion of the rights of Kashmiri people.
A notification issued on Tuesday stated that the term "being permanent resident of the state" as a criteria has been "omitted", paving the way for even non-Kashmiri Indians to purchase land in the Himalayan region.
Until last year, the region enjoyed a special status, guaranteed by the Indian constitution, which allowed it to make its own rules about permanent residency and property ownership.
Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan and both rule parts of it. The region continues to be at the heart of two of the three wars fought by India and Pakistan since independence in 1947.
India's portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.
In Aug 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government scrapped the region's autonomy. The decision to strip it of its special status and split it into two federally-administered territories sparked widespread protests in the region.
Modi's government had earlier said that uniformity in rules and governance will bring development to the region.
The latest amendments to land rules are part of the government's policy to apply all Indian laws that were not applicable for about seven decades, local and federal government officials said.
"Amendment to land laws is crucial part of structural changes being made in Jammu and Kashmir. The region should be governed like any other part of the country," said a senior home ministry official on conditions of anonymity.
Opposition leaders in Kashmir have criticised the Modi government for rewriting the land laws.
"The amendments have put Jammu and Kashmir up for sale...These new laws are unacceptable to people of J&K," said former chief minister Omar Abdullah in a tweet.
Abdullah was one among the 5,000 people detained last year ahead of scrapping of Kashmir's autonomy last year.
On Tuesday, the country's Interior Ministry announced that anyone would now be able to purchase non-agricultural land in Jammu and Kashmir, while farmland could only be transferred or sold to agriculturists, or others if authorized by the government.
Under the new laws, the government also ordered the establishment of an industrial development corporation. The notification read that if the firm was not able to acquire land from private owners, the government could invoke provisions of another law to acquire land on its behalf for undefined "public" purposes.
When autonomy was scrapped last year, both local pro-India and pro-freedom politicians expressed fears that it would open the gates to demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority region.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965, and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir. Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.