Kashmiris likely to get domicile rights

Talk of restoration of domicile rights engenders hope in Kashmir, reports Riyaz Wani

The Centre is reportedly mulling to grant domicile rights to residents of Jammu and Kashmir to protect employment and land ownership rights. New Delhi, reports said, is doing this keeping in view the huge unemployment among educated J&K youth and to address the sensitivities in the state turned union territory about the buying of land by outsiders.

After nullification of Article 370 on August 5, J&K has lost the protections which barred outsiders from settling down in the state and also allowed only the local residents to apply for jobs in the then state government. This has become a source of great unease in the UT, with a majority of people seeking restoration of these rights. But so far the central government has been non-commital on the issue.

But if the centre does restore these protections, it is likely to be welcomed by the people in the UT and will go some way to address the deep anxieties among the people, more so in Kashmir Valley, as to their identity.

One of the biggest concerns of the people In Kashmir Valley after the repeal of Article 370 has been buying of the UT land by outsiders and also loss of jobs to them. So far, parties across the ideological divide, including the BJP which undid these protections, has sought back the domicile rights.

Even the senior BJP leader from the UT, Nirmal Singh has called for the grant of a domicile rights to J&K on the pattern of similar laws in Himachal Pradesh and north eastern states.

“We are going to propose a domicile-like option for citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The interests of the people of J&K shall be protected. Like in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, agricultural land cannot be bought,” Singh, who was the deputy chief minister in the previous PDP-BJP government, told media after revocation of Article 370.

Top BJP leader and the party’s point man on J&K Ram Madhav has also offered assurances to people of J&K that their identity will be protected.

“All precautions will be taken so that there is no harm to the identity, culture, jobs and education of people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Madhav told a party workers’ function in Srinagar. “Centre will not take any step against the interests of the people of J&K”.

Recently, some senior leaders from the Valley were seen to be active on the political scene lobbying for the grant of Article 371 to J&K. Their alleged efforts created a buzz in Kashmir. Local papers have prominently carried reports on the activities of these leaders. And Beigh too lent credence to these reports by issuing a statement that Article 370 was indeed their goal.

However, the major J&K leaders which include three former chief ministers – Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – are still under detention. And which means these leaders haven’t warmed to the idea of Article 371. And in their absence, the idea is also unlikely to find any traction among the majority of people in the newly created union territory.

But it is also true that the fear of a demographic change runs so deep in the Valley that the people will certainly be relieved to get their domicile rights back. More so, when the reports of the centre creating a ‘land bank’ for the outside companies is only further deepening the fear. So far around 17,000 kanals of state land has been earmarked in the UT.

While there is no opposition to outside investment in the UT, people general fear this may be a ploy to give land to outsiders. “Issue is that the trust has taken a hit following revocation of Article 370,” says senior Vice President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries Nasir Ahmad Khan. “And to address this, centre will have to take measures to give people a sense of reassurance.