Major parties smell rat in J-K admin’s ‘land to landless’ plan

Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir

The initiative by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to grant ‘land to the landless’ has stirred a heated political debate within the union territory with major political parties alleging that the scheme is aimed at altering the demography of Kashmir.  A report by Riaz Wani

The initiative by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to grant “land to the landless” has stirred a heated political debate within the union territory, with major political parties insisting that the administration identify the people set to receive this allocation. They have called for transparency and clarity from the administration regarding the intentions and implications of the scheme.

The parties such as the PDP led by Mehbooba Mufti have expressed apprehensions that the scheme is geared to alter the demography of Kashmir as, according to the party, the number of landless in J&K is disproportionately less than the two lakh people estimated by the government.

Earlier, Mehbooba said that under the government data of 2021, only 19,047 persons are landless in the union territory. “When Lt Governor Manoj Sinha says he is giving houses to two lakh people and has sanctioned the houses for 1.45 lakh already, it means if five members are in each family, the number will be 10 lakhs,” she alleged in July when the scheme was first announced by the government.

“Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 is being treated as a war bounty. In the old times after the war between the two countries, the people and land of the defeated nation were treated by the conquered as a bounty. In the same manner, after the abrogation of Article 370, our land and our resources are being treated as bounty,” Mehbooba added

However, the government has denied Mehbooba’s claim that the outsiders were being settled in J&K through the scheme, saying only domiciles were being given the land.

But the controversy has refused to die down. Now the parties are seeking to know who these domiciles are.

National Conference chief spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq said while the scheme is “not bad”, the government needs to explain more about who the beneficiaries are.

“Such decisions are usually taken by an elected government,” Sadiq said. “The most important question that the people are asking is whether these beneficiaries were domiciles before August 2019 (when Article 370 was abrogated) or after that. And if it is the later, then it raises a question on the entire process.”

PDP’s chief spokesperson, Suhail Bukhari called for more transparency from the administration regarding the scheme.

“Well, this whole policy which is purportedly called ‘land to landless’ is shrouded in mystery,” he said. “Because, there have been statements coming from here and there, but the essential information that should have come out is still evading the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Bukhari further expressed concerns about the lack of clarity surrounding the policy’s objectives and outcomes, saying, initially, the administration informed that there were two lakh landless families, but later, they admitted that the number was lesser.

“And now, when the administration has issued the guidelines, they said that the eligibility of this scheme would be the domicile of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, we know that this administration has issued domicile certificates to a number of people who essentially are not originally the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. But, by means of this order they would be eligible for this scheme,” Bukhari said.

As it is, the question of whether the beneficiaries were domiciles before or after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 has become crucial to the debate. The timeline also holds significance as it marks a turning point in the region’s legal and political landscape.

Meanwhile, the administration is going ahead with the implementation of the scheme. It hasn’t chosen to explain its position beyond a point, accusing the opposition of trying to mislead people.

“A person shall be considered landless if he is a domicile of J&K having a separate family and doesn’t have land in his own name or in the name of any of his family members or is not entitled to inherit five Marlas or more land,” reads the latest government order. “The land shall be granted on lease on payment of a token amount of Rs 100 per Marla as a one-time premium and a nominal amount of Rs 1 per marla per annum as ground rent, in relaxation of Jammu and Kashmir Land Grant Rules, 2022.”