Laws, land and disempowerment: Businesses in Kashmir feel the heat as ‘new rules’ hit home

Amid a series of orders and laws being implemented in Kashmir post-haste, one recent notice has now set the alarm bells ringing for lockdown-battered trader community.

As trade leader Yasin Khan talks about a new notice served to Kashmiri business community, he comes across as a confused man struggling for some clarity.

Served by the newly constituted J&K Waqf Board, the notice has already set alarm bells ringing in the valley.

The contents of the notice appear problematic to Khan and his tribe, as it mentions that the property of Waqf board is being “occupied by the traders illegally”.

The notice has directed traders to submit the claims of allotment, license deeds and lease agreement to the Waqf board in 14 days, failing which it’ll be deemed that the property has been grabbed by the specific traders.

Undersigned by one Zubair Ahmed, Tehsildar, J&K Waqf Board, the notice goes on to mention that the board is contemplating criminal proceedings against traders, who’re wondering about the purpose and motive behind it.

“I fail to understand why we’ve been served with this notice,” Khan says.

In 2019, the trade leader says, his tribe had a meeting with the board where they had addressed certain concerns, including the most pressing one—rent, increased by 120 per cent last year.

“Traders have been using Waqf properties for 50 years on lease,” Khan says. “And this lease gets renewed every 11 months. Despite following all the guidelines, I am not able to make sense of this notice.”

Welcome to ‘Naya Kashmir’

Khan might be as oblivious about the startling notice as others in his community, but in the politically-altered landscape of Kashmir Valley, such status-quo-undoing communiqué—shot by dominant officialdom—have now become routine.

“It’s a clear and simple notice,” Zubair Ahmad, Tehsildar, J&K Waqf Board, tries to set the records straight. “We’re simply asking all the owners to show us their documents to prove that they’re rightful claimers of the Waqf property.”

The state act which now ceases to exist, he says, had no provision of tenancy.

“Hence, these traders would be given the property on lease and every 11 months this lease would be renewed,” the Tehsildar asserts.

“Since nothing like this has happened in past, hence we’re asking traders to produce lease agreement or license document.”

But given the timing of the notice, many reckon that the business community of Kashmir dented by the double-lockdown is unnecessarily being dragged into red-tapism.

“I’ve taken charge only a week back,” Tehsildar Zubair continues. “And after scrutinizing the documents I took this step.”

The board will assess the documents submitted and then take a decision, he says.

“An immediate action will be taken against those who fail to produce the documents within 14 days,” Zubair says.

“Wrongdoings have been done in the past and we’re just aiming to retrieve the illegally occupied Waqf properties.”

Political Summer Stroke

Traders in Kashmir feel that this is not happening in isolation but link these developments with the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019.

Following that, New Delhi through J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 changed to the J&K Waqf Board and Acts along with laws governing land ownership and citizenship (domicile), causing fears of demographic change, as Kashmiri Muslims seemed to disappear from power positions in the Administration, banking, and politics.

While the Central Waqf Act of India was extended to J&K, the two individual state acts, The Jammu & Kashmir Wakf Act-2001 and The Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Specified Wakfs and Specified Waqf Properties (Management and Regulation) Act 2004 were abolished. These two acts governed the Waqf properties and Muslim shrines.

Being the most-rich organisation in J&K which takes care of almost 2,000 buildings and runs three nursing colleges and one university, J&K Waqf Board has 9,500 kanal under its jurisdiction and an annual income of Rs 26 crores.

Earlier, the J&K Waqf Board had expressed their disappointment and concern over the extension of the central laws in J&K.

Huffington Post had reported that lawyers and board members are concerned about the fact that all Muslim shrines will be under the indirect control of the government of India.

The upshot of this change was the silent departure of the top board official.

“I stepped down from the post of Vice-Chairman of the J&K Waqf Board on October 31,” G.R Sufi, former VC J&K Waqf Board, had told The Hindu.

“There was no clarity on the continuation of the previous system. The J&K Reorganisation Act also shows no mention of the previous Act. In the absence of any formal order from the Centre, I preferred to step down.”

Inside Khan’s Chamber

While raising many questions, the new notice, many argue, is another instance of “gradual and systemic disempowerment” of Kashmiris in their own homeland.

The fears, questions and apprehensions of Kashmiri people are not in isolation but part of a rather visible change in the structure of J&K’s administration and economy and disempowerment in institutions.

“But we’ll take this issue up with the Waqf Board soon,” Khan, the alarmed trade leader, says.

Last year’s meeting, he adds, was a success, as there were no confusions or any grey areas left.

“But after that,” he says, “I was detained and what happened behind my back is not known to me.”


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