New Land Laws in J&K – An opportunity or misfortune
By: Shafqat Shafi
The new land laws recently notified in J&K UT have resulted in wide spread reactions that initially originated from Kashmir Valley and is now showing some impact in Jammu province as well. There is a common feeling that such laws should be brought in only after proper consultation with locals, who are the real stakeholders and that at the moment, in absence of an elected government, the initiative lacks local input. It is in this backdrop that it is being projected that these laws would deprive the locals of their land rights besides robbing them of small time self-employment opportunities. However even a casual glance at the sequence of events that have emerged since the announcement of this decision would make it clear that the issue is being hijacked by a selected few for political gains.
Taking a glance at the background of this decision, it can be understood that this step is merely aimed at systematising an ongoing process that started long ago in the shape of several amendments to some erstwhile special provisions concerning J&K, particularly Article 370.
No doubt preferential land rights exist for locals in others States and UTs on similar pattern but they have also provided scope for investments leading to their overall development. A comparison of what we have missed in J&K over these years due to rigidity of these laws is open for everyone to audit. On the positive side, this decision is bound to bring in huge investments that will act as a certain boost to the economy of J&K. Several productive sectors like tourism, health, education, entertainment, sports etc would witness an immediate and steep growth on account of this decision. It has been made amply clear that only non agriculture land that merely accounts to about 11 % in J&K, would be accessible to the outsiders for their commercial purposes. As such fears of large scale influx of outsiders is mere hoax and their activity would be limited. It is all the more to be kept in mind that there is no binding on locals to associate with the outsiders who will invest in J&K and such future associations would be purely based on the will of local population.
It is also a sad state of affairs that several recent decisions concerning J&K taken by New Delhi are being seen purely with a political prism and are also being propagated on similar pattern. The political class that that has recently revived its activity in J&K after relaxations in Covid restrictions is attempting to catch immediate attention based on any issue by merely exploiting sentiments of locals. It is also being seen that the locals are being misguided to take an intended course rather than leaving them alone to assimilate the facts before arriving at a decision.
The investment deprived economy of J&K is in dire need of revival since the last year and a half and this decision may act as a life support. However, a selected class, both political and industrial, feels insecure that they may suffer losses in the wake of competitiveness that these new prospective investors would bring along. The monopoly of this selected politico cum industrial class in J&K that has controlled business opportunities since long is at stake and they fear that the non locals may offer attractive avenues at cheaper costs. This will include the tourism/hotel industry, specialised medical facilities, better educational opportunities, employment opportunities for both skilled non skilled labour etc.
Those spreading fears about the outcome of this decision based on their perceived misconceptions need to understand that they cannot devoid an entire generation of competiveness in this era of globalisation and internet. When the entire country is at a progressive path and borders are being fast rendered irrelevant, we cannot be mute spectators to this change and evolution. Despite having abundance of natural resources and a huge potential to attract investments, a selected class had created a fear psychosis in entire J&K over the years thus forcing the inhabitants of the UT to remain cut off from the pace of parallel development taking place in other parts of the country.
Another vital issue is that we cannot always rely of our tourism potential and will have to look for alternate avenues for future sustenance of our economy. This decision will prove to be a mile stone towards these efforts in the long run; however, we need to preserve the fragile ecology of J&K for which new provisions are likely to be included in the rules governing transfer of land for industrial purposes.
In the wake of the above it is quite evident that fear of loss of monopoly of business is more to do with the hype created over the issue rather than any cogent reason. Ordinary man of J&K, both from rural and urban areas, is the primary state holder in this decision and as such attempts to influence his notion by a selected few cannot be accepted. The acceptance or rebuttal of this decision should be left at the conscience of the common man. If he feels that this decision brings development and prosperity at his door steps he may endorse it and if he feels that his identity and sanctity is at stake, he may act accordingly.