India enacts new laws allowing non-locals to buy land in disputed Kashmir

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has been introducing major changes to the laws governing the ownership of land in the Indian-administered Kashmir since its decision to abolish the disputed Himalayan region’s autonomous status last year.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday issued a notification about new amendments that would make it possible for any Indian citizen to buy land in the Muslim-majority region.

The new laws would allow people from outside Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to buy land there.

The new change took immediate effect.

Until now, the permanent residents of the contested valley held the sole right to acquire land.

The move has sparked fear among local residents and prompted criticism from regional political parties and leaders.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah criticized the amendments and called them “unacceptable.”

“Even the tokenism of domicile has been done away with when purchasing non-agricultural land and transfer of agricultural land has been made easier. J&K is now up for sale and the poorer small land holding owners will suffer,” Abdullah said in a Twitter post.

Since Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its constitutional autonomous status more than a year ago, New Delhi has unilaterally introduced a slew of laws that locals say are aimed at shifting the region’s demographics and economically disempowering local residents.

India’s Home Ministry earlier this month imposed property tax on all types of land and buildings in the restive Himalayan region.

The order sparked widespread condemnations, with political and civil activists saying that such moves would overburden the people and further worsen the already fragile economic situation in the region, which witnesses frequent disturbances.

Scores of non-resident Kashmiris have also been granted domicile certificates under a new citizenship law. The certificate entitles a non-Kashmiri to job and residency in Kashmir, which were until now reserved only for the locals.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has denied that the new laws are an attempt to change the demography of the region.

Kashmir is a bone of contention between arch rivals India and Pakistan.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.

Meanwhile, Muslims elsewhere in India have also been facing abuse and violence.

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