No special relief, J&K land curbs may be for agricultural plots only

Deeptiman Tiwary
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Since the abrogation of Article 370 stripped the erstwhile state of its special status, there have been calls in Jammu and Kashmir seeking protection of land and jobs for locals.

The protection for land ownership and against acquisition in Jammu and Kashmir may be restricted to just agricultural land, and not be on the lines of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Besides, Ladakh is unlikely to be included under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution which grants tribal regions autonomy of administration and legislation.

Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is formulating provisions on these issues in consultation with the local administrations of the two Union Territories, said while protection of jobs for local people may be guaranteed through requirement of 15 years of domicile in Jammu and Kashmir, land protection would remain confined to agricultural land.

“Matters are still being discussed, but protection against purchase of property by outsiders as provided in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand does not appear feasible at the moment. It may remain restricted to protection of agricultural land as is there in most states,” an MHA official said.

Read more | Govt readies provisions to protect jobs and land rights in J&K

Since the abrogation of Article 370 stripped the erstwhile state of its special status, there have been calls in Jammu and Kashmir seeking protection of land and jobs for locals. Anxiety in Jammu is higher as few outsiders are expected to venture to Kashmir on account of the fragile law and order.

“Putting too many restrictions on land acquisition will defeat the very purpose of abrogation of Article 370 and the objective of industrialisation and development in the region. Also, with outsiders being allowed to buy land, it will only push up prices and benefit the local people,” the official said.

On the issue of protecting rights of local people in Ladakh, the other UT carved out of Kashmir on August 5, 2019, the ministry has decided not to include it under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. A recommendation in this regard had been made by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in September last year.

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In December, the government told Parliament that it had no such plans yet as the region already has the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) and it was good enough to protect the rights of locals.

“Still we keep getting representations from various groups and civil society members for inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule. Even politicians from the region keep demanding it. The Congress said in Parliament that it is required. But Ladakh has the LAHDC, which has more powers than autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule,” an MHA official said.

The Sixth Schedule provides for creation of autonomous councils in tribal-dominated regions for self-administration. These councils have the right to make laws related to land, forests, fisheries, social security, entertainment, public health etc. They can collect taxes, levy fees, determine the boundaries of the council, decide which Central or state law will apply to their region and with what modification, and even set up village courts to settle local disputes.

The LAHDC has similar powers with minor differences, such as the power to make recruitments at district level but no provision to set up and administer local courts. Also Central and state laws apply to the LAHDC universally unless specifically mentioned in an Act that it shall not apply to Ladakh.

The council was created under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act 1995, following demands of Ladakhi people to make Leh district a separate Union Territory because of its religious and cultural differences with the rest of Jammu and Kashmir. In October 1993, the Indian Union Government and the Jammu and Kashmir state government agreed to grant Ladakh the status of Autonomous Hill Council. The council came into being with the holding of elections on August 28, 1995.

An autonomous hill council was established in neighbouring Kargil district in July 2003. The council is composed of 30 Councillors of which 26 are directly elected and 4 are nominated members. The executive arm of the council consists of an executive committee composed of a Chief Executive Councillor and four other executive councillors.