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BJP's U-turn on J&K property transfer Bill puts PDP in a spot

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST
The Bill
  • J&K govt decided to introduce a Bill to prevent transfer of land to non-state subjects in Jammu
  • BJP changed its stand as soon as the Bill reached the Assembly
The concerns
  • BJP fears this would strengthen Article 370 and anger Jammu
  • NC, Congress and even sections of PDP are now on the offensive
More in the story
  • What does the draft law say?
  • Reasons behind BJP\'s U-turn

Jammu and Kashmir has been hit by another land transfer controversy. But this is different from the 2008 Amarnath land row, which triggered three months of unrest in the state. The opposition this time is not to the transfer of land but to a proposed Bill seeking to bar such transfer to non-state subjects on lease. And unlike 2008, the opposition isn't coming for the Valley, but from Jammu. As a result, the BJP is trying to hastily kill the Bill to prevent protests from its core constituency.

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On 23 June, the Jammu and Kashmir Cabinet decided to introduce a Bill in the ongoing Assembly session to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Transfer of Property Act, which would have prevented transfer of land to non-state subjects in the Jammu region. The BJP was very much a party to this decision.

The amendment proposed by the state revenue ministry sought curbs on taking possession of or construction activity on the property transferred, unless it was registered in accordance with the law.

Interestingly, such restrictions already apply in Kashmir province. The state's Transfer of Property Act reads:

"No person shall take possession of or commence to build or build on any land in Province of Kashmir which has been transferred or has been contracted to be transferred to him unless and until such transfer becomes valid under the provision of sub-section (1), Sub-section(3) of Section 138 of the Transfer of Property Act".

But the proposed amendments sought to substitute the words "province of Kashmir" with the word "State", thus making the law applicable to the entire state.

BJP supported the Bill in the Cabinet but baulked when it was to come up for a vote

Though BJP initially supported the amendment, being party to the Cabinet decision to introduce it in the House, the party suddenly baulked when it was due to come up for vote.

Opposition to the proposed amendment by Jammu Bar Association and critical reports in Jammu based newspapers forced an immediate rethink by the party.

On 30 June, when the Law Minister Syed Basharat Bukhari introduced the Bill in the House, BJP legislators RS Pathania and Davinder Kumar Maniyal pleaded that it be referred to a yet to be constituted select committee and not be passed it "in a hurry". The committee, which is to be nominated by the speaker, has been asked to submit the report during the next Assembly session.

The National Conference and the Congress both of which had offered unqualified support, opposed the move and pressed for the passage of the Bill. Even PDP legislator Altaf Bukhari supported the Opposition in its demand to put the Bill to vote.

But this was not to be. The Bill was sent to a select committee.

BJP's about turn

Why did BJP seek review of the Bill after approving it in the Cabinet? Though the party gave no explanation except for the vague reason that the Bill went against many High Court rulings, there is little confusion among people as to the source of it's unease.

After okaying the Bill in the Cabinet, the party suddenly woke up to its impact because of the opposition from civil society in Jammu, its core base.

One such widely shared apprehension is that the passing of the Bill would bar the transfer of the property in Jammu to non-state subjects, thereby plugging a chink in the Article 370 armour which forbids outsiders to settle in the state and which BJP has always sought to revoke.

The conflict over the Land Transfer Bill thus embodies the conflict between Kashmir and Jammu regions in their approach to land, identity and the political issues in the state. Kashmiris favour strengthening of the Article 370 and the laws prohibiting land transfer to non-state subjects lest it lead to a demographic change in India's only Muslim majority state. On the other hand, a substantial opinion in Jammu championed by BJP itself, favours jettisoning of such legal restrictions.

The Bill plugs a loophole in Article 370. BJP will try to prevent its passage

Jammu is thus as paranoid about the perceived rise of the Muslim population in the region as Kashmir is about the contemplated Sainik and Kashmiri Pandit colonies. This, in turn, drives a lot of political fear-mongering in the two regions, sometimes pitting them against each other.

So while BJP promptly killed the Bill to address the fears of its constituency in Jammu, PDP has deepened the anxiety of its supporters in the Valley who fear the misuse of the loopholes in Jammu.

However, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti put a positive spin to the fiasco, stating the Bill was being sent to the select committee to reconcile the differences between Kashmir and Jammu.

"Somewhere, there is a perception that what is good for Jammu is bad for Kashmir and vice versa," she said while referring to the opinion of the BJP legislators on the Bill. "It is a difference of perception and it was the vision of Mufti Sahib to bridge these differences".

NC chief Omar Abdullah, however, is in no mood to relent. On Friday, he led a delegation of his party to Governor N N Vohra and submitted two memorandums.

The first memorandum, Omar told reporters later, was on the "sabotage" of the land transfer Bill.

"We saw in the Assembly yesterday that for the first time, a government Bill which was brought by a minister, was recommended to be sent to a Select Committee by the same minister, despite a majority of the members being in favour of the Bill," he said.

"We feel, this way, the credibility of the institutions, especially Assembly, is lost and this is an old habit of the PDP. They also played with the Transfer of Property Act in their last government, so it is happening for the second time".

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First published: 3 July 2016, 5:47 IST