Disquiet and cynicism marks the second anniversary of the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, even as the administration lists its achievements – mostly implementation of central laws and the repealing of those passed by the former state.
Two years ago, on August 5, the centre scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the ex-state into two union territories. Since then, people here are still trying to come to terms with the reality and impact of the new regime and changes in laws.
Ajay Lakhotra, a Dalit activist from Jammu’s Mud area, says changes in the laws have impacted several people in J&K, including those from his community.
“My grandfather, Nandu Ram, was a landless tiller… he didn’t have even a few yards to build a home. It was only after the ‘land to the tiller’ Act that he was granted ownership of five acres. That Act, which liberated us from centuries of slavery and bonded labour, has been repealed,” he said.
Under the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act (1950), over seven lakh landless farmers, including Dalits, were granted ownership of tracts of land.
Commonly called ‘land to the tiller’ Act, it was repealed last year, as were several other revenue laws and a law barring any individual from owning more than eight acres of agrarian land, which protected small and marginal farmers from having their lands snapped up by rich agriculturists.
“The government claims Article 370 was abrogated to give rights to Dalits… but we have been deceived. Today, we are at the crossroads again. The law that made us owners of land and gave us dignity… has been abolished. Who knows when old jagirdars (feudal landlords) will come and ask us to vacate,” Mr Lakhotra asked.
Other changes to the land laws include allowing outsiders to buy urban land and immovable property in J&K; earlier only residents were allowed to do so. The changes did not apply to agricultural land, but triggered furious protests from opposition leaders.
Following changes in the laws, locals also allege they have been dispossessed of resources.
For example, mining contracts to people from outside J&K has become a major issue – one that has riled even the BJP in Jammu. Senior party leader Vikram Randhwa has claimed massive corruption in the awarding of these contracts and declared these aid illegal mining activities.
Locals have said that since mining contracts were opened to outsiders, construction costs have skyrocketed, and people are either forced to pay exorbitant rates or resort to illegal mining.
“Contracts are given to people from outside. They don’t allow us… we can’t extract sand from our river. It has destroyed our livelihood. We have no means of income now,” Ali Mohammad Dar, from Lilhar village, said.
Mr Dar lives on the banks of the Jhelum and his village earns a livelihood by extracting sand.
The government has released a 76-page booklet listing its achievements of the last two years. It has said that 890 central laws have been made applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, with 205 state laws repealed and 130 others modified.
It has also said it has issued 41.05 lakh domicile certificates to replace former Permanent Resident Certificates that gave exclusive rights over land and jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.
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