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Amid protests by Oppn, J&K says old land laws obsolete

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Amid protests by opposition parties and many sections of the public in Jammu and Kashmir against the new land laws introduced by the Centre, the Union Territory administration’s spokesperson Rohit Kansal on Saturday defended the move, saying that many of these laws repealed or modified had become “outdated” and “obsolete’’ and were even “regressive’’ and “anti-people”.

While National Conference leader and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah has accused the government of opening J&K “for sale”, and said that the new laws try to do away with land reforms that had been hallmark of the erstwhile state, Kansal maintained that the reality is “actually quite to the contrary’’.

Citing an instance, he said while Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, had already superseded the Big Landed Abolition Act, relevant provisions of both laws have been included in the new laws.

According to Kansal, the new laws were required since the entire gamut of earlier land laws was meant to serve an “old agrarian rural”, and many of these had become “outdated and obsolete”.

The Centre had on October 26 amended and notified land laws for the UT and explicitly omitted the protection earlier available to its ‘permanent residents’. The amended laws open up urban or non-agricultural land for purchase by outsiders, permit contract farming on agricultural lands, provide for setting up of an industrial development corporation, among others.

In effect, a dozen land-related laws have been repealed: Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950; Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1956; Consolidation of Holding Act, 1962; Land Improvement Scheme Act, 1972; Prevention of Fragmentation of Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960; Alienation of Land Act, 1995; Right of Prior Purchase Act, 1936; J&K Flood Plain (Regulation and Development) Act, 2005; J&K Underground Public Utilities (Acquisition Of Rights Of User In Land) Act, 2014; Tenancy (Stay Of Ejectment Proceedings) Act, 1966; J&K Utilization of Lands Act; and Prohibition of Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act, 1975.

The government has also modified four major existing laws: Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976; Land Revenue Act, 1939; Lands Grants Act, 1960; and J&K Development Act, 1970.

Calling the new laws “modern and progressive”, and affording “adequate protection against alienation of land to outsiders’’, Kansal said several protections have been introduced on similar lines, as enacted in states such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. He said that no agricultural land can be transferred to any person from outside J&K but can only be sold to an agriculturist from within the UT. He said “agriculturist’’ in the new law has been defined as a person who himself/herself cultivates land in the UT.

Kansal also said that no land used for agricultural purpose can be used for any non-agricultural purpose, and that the terms “agricultural land” and “agriculturist” have been unambiguously defined in the new laws to include not just agriculture but also horticulture and allied agro-activities. The safeguard on agricultural land alone would ensure that more than 90 percent land in J&K – which is agricultural land – remains protected and with the people of J&K, he added.

But Congress’s chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma, said that people are opposing not amendments or amalgamation of old land laws into new laws, but the “open entry of outsiders without any restrictions in respect to land and jobs without any safeguards like domicile etc, to local people’’. He said, “They (Centre) have already assured people of Ladakh safeguards in respect to land and jobs, and the latter are only waiting for a formal notification in the matter. The law that is good and is required in Ladakh…why is it not made applicable to J&K (as well)?”

Kansal said the new provisions address infirmities in the old set of laws and also provide for modern and enabling provisions to aid in agricultural and industrial growth of J&K. He said while progressive provisions of the repealed laws have been retained by including them in the modified Land Revenue Act, new provisions have been added to modernise existing laws.

There are now provisions for setting up of a Board of Revenue, regional planning for regulating use of land, alienation and conversion, land lease, consolidation and contract farming, Kansal said. The Board of Revenue, comprising senior officers, will not only be the developing authority for preparing regional plans but can notify a scheme of consolidation of land holdings and also a scheme for restricting and regulating the fragmentation of agricultural land holdings to make agriculture viable, he said.

Pointing at the complexities in the old, repealed laws, Kansal pointed out that “Family’’ was defined differently in different laws. Similar was the case in respect to the provision of alienation and conversion of land, he said, adding that a ceiling of 182 kanals was fixed in the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act and it was superseded by 100 standard kanals in the Agrarian Reforms Act 1976. But both provisions continued to co-exist creating contradiction and confusion, he added.

“The Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, is 44 years old. We are in 2020, yet this Act prohibited the tiller of any land from selling land available to him,’’ Kansal said. “As a result, even after a generation, this land could not be sold or transacted.”

As a result, he said, there were a large number of so-called “benami” transactions and restrictions for the next generation to transact with land that was otherwise legitimately made available to the tillers.

Citing another instance, he said the Agrarian Reforms Act had ended tenancy but tenancy still stayed since the Ejectment of Tenancy Law, 1956, continued to exist.

Similarly, Prohibition of Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act, 1975, not only prohibited alienation of orchard lands, it also restricted creation of new orchards, he said. The Right of Sale Purchase Act made severe constraints and restrictions on an owner’s right to dispose of his own property, he said.

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