Urban land and immovable properties in Jammu and Kashmir can now be bought by residents of any state. The Centre notified a new law to integrate the Union Territory with the rest of the country.
Earlier, only permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir were permitted to purchase land in the state. However, all of that changed after the Centre's decision in August last year, to scrap the state's special powers under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate it into two Union Territories.
In a gazette notification, the Centre has omitted the phrase "permanent resident of the state" from Section 17 of the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, which is related to the disposal of land in the Union Territory.
The amended laws open up urban or non-agricultural land for possession by outsiders, allow contract farming on agricultural lands, allow setting up of an industrial development corporation, and also cover the zones identified for development, the ownership of which earlier remained with 'permanent residents'.
Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, said that the amended law does not apply to agricultural land.
"I want to say this forcefully and with full responsibility that agricultural land has been kept reserved for farmers; no outsider will come on those lands," the Lieutenant-Governor said. "The industrial areas that we have defined -- we want that like the rest of the country, industries to come here so that Jammu and Kashmir also develops and employment is generated," he added.
Under the notification, for the first time, the spouse of a J&K domicile shall also be deemed as a domicile. Earlier, spouses of Permanent Resident Cardholders were considered at par but were not considered domiciles.
Children of central government officials posted for over ten years in J&K will also be considered domiciles.
The rules also mention that agricultural land can be transferred with the government's approval. As per the rules, "no sale, gift, exchange, or mortgage of any land will be valid in favour of a person who is not an agriculturist, unless the government or an officer authorised by it in this behalf may grant permission for the same."
The notification further adds that the use of agricultural land for making residential accommodation or grain storage cannot exceed four hundred square metres in total.
"The holder of any agriculture land may construct a residential house or erect farm building, grain storage, primary processing of agriculture produce, wells or tanks or make any other improvements thereon for residential purpose or agricultural improvement, on intimation to the tehsildar concerned," the rules state.
Any non-agriculturist in whose favour land has been transferred can use it only for non-agricultural purposes and shall put the land to use only for which it has been transferred, within a period of five years, the rules state.
The move, however, sparked massive protests from the local political parties.
J&K National Conference vice-president and former CM Omar Abdullah said the decision would affect small land-owners.
Left leader Sitaram Yechury tweeted: "This is highway robbery. The loot of J&K's resources & beautiful landscape. Having destroyed all people's democratic structures, will the next step be forcible land acquisition to hand over to cronies & fatten the purses of the ruling party at the centre? This cannot be allowed."