Skip to content

Evolution of Land Laws in Jammu and Kashmir

1. Introduction

2. Muslim Rule (Before Sikh Rule)

3. Sikh Rule (Before 1846)

4. Dogra Rule (1846 – 1947)

5. The Dawn of a New Era (1947 – 1950)

  • Land Reforms and Their Impact (1950 – 1976)
  • The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950
  • The Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976
  • Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, 1938
  • the Land Grants Act, 1960
  • Role of AFSPA

6. Abrogation of Article 370 and Contemporary Legal Framework (2019 – 2024)

7. Conclusion


The evolution of land laws in Jammu and Kashmir is a complex and multifaceted topic, deeply intertwined with the region’s socioeconomic dynamics, regional identity, and historical context. Land laws have played a pivotal role in shaping the socioeconomic fabric of Jammu and Kashmir, influencing everything from agricultural practices to the distribution of wealth and power.

The historical landscape of land laws in Jammu and Kashmir reflects a dynamic interplay of rulers’ priorities and external influences. From the feudal structures under Muslim rule to the attempts at restructuring landownership during Sikh rule and the autocratic policies of the Dogra rulers, each era has left an indelible mark on the region’s land practices.

 Muslim Rule (Before Sikh Rule)

The Muslim rule is marked by a feudal land tenure system, where the ruling elite, including local chieftains and nobility, owned large tracts of land. The jagirdari system was a prominent feature of this era, where land grants, known as jagirs, were given to individuals, often in exchange for military or administrative services to the state. These jagirdars had the authority to govern and collect taxes from the peasants working on their lands[1].

The peasants, who formed the backbone of the agrarian economy, were heavily taxed and required to pay a significant portion of their produce as tax to the state. This system of revenue collection was a major source of income for the state but also led to the exploitation of the agrarian community[2]. The revenue collection methods included both produce and cash payments, which often placed a heavy burden on the peasantry[2].

The land revenue system under Muslim rule, therefore, was characterized by a hierarchical structure with the Maharaja at the apex, followed by a hierarchy of landlords, jagirdars, and peasants at the bottom, who possessed no land and worked under tenancy[3].

Sikh Rule (Before 1846)

The The Sikh rule in Kashmir, which lasted from 1819 to 1846, was marked by significant changes in land policies and agrarian practices. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who annexed Kashmir, ended the Afghan rule and established the first nonIslamic government in the region in over five centuries. His administration was a mix of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims[4].

The Sikh rulers were cautious of the large and numerous jagirs (land grants) held by Kashmiri Muslims, fearing potential conspiracies against their rule. Consequently, they confiscated these jagirs, leading to an agrarian crisis. The Sikh administration was militaristic, and the governors appointed to oversee Kashmir were often military men who had the autonomy to govern with little oversight from Lahore. This led to rampant corruption and exploitation, exacerbating the agrarian crisis[5].

The Sikh rulers implemented measures that were perceived as antiMuslim, such as the ban on cow slaughter and restrictions on the Azan (Muslim call to prayer), contributing to the view of the Sikh rule as oppressive. Despite these challenges, the Sikh rule did attempt to regulate the shawl trade and implement reforms that had varying degrees of success[4].

In conclusion, the land policies during the Sikh rule in Jammu and Kashmir were shaped by the rulers’ need to extract revenue and maintain control over the region. While the Sikh rule attempted to reorganize land ownership, often at the expense of the agrarian community, these policies had a lasting impact on the land practices and socioeconomic conditions of the region, setting the stage for future reforms and conflicts[4][3].

 Dogra Rule (1846 – 1947)

The Dogra rule in Jammu and Kashmir, which spanned from 1846 to 1947, was marked by distinctive land policies and revenue regulations. Maharaja Gulab Singh, the first Dogra ruler, and his successors treated the entire land of the state as their personal property, leading to an agrarian crisis as the peasantry was deprived of land rights and subjected to heavy taxation[1][3].

The Dogra rulers established a revenue surveillance system that facilitated institutionalized land grabs. Land revenue was often remitted in favor of individuals like Brahmins (Pandits), saintly persons, and institutions. The revenue assigned was received by Muafidar in cash and 2/3 in kind, while in nonreligious muafls, the whole of land revenue was received either in cash or kind[1].

Land grants were offered to officers and other influential people of the state, which further exacerbated the socioeconomic disparities[6]. The taxation policy of the state was exorbitant, with newer unknown and unjustified taxes being imposed on subjects[8].

The land policies under Dogra rule significantly influenced landownership patterns in Jammu and Kashmir. The Dogra rulers considered the entire land of the state as their family property, and the right of ownership thus vested in the state and was not granted to the peasants[1]. This led to a shift in power dynamics and the emergence of a new class of landowners, mainly the Dogra rulers and their favored individuals[6].

Under Dogra rule, most of the landlords were Hindus, either Dogra or Pandit, which was a reversal of the period of Pathan rule. This had a deeply significant sociopolitical impact, especially for the 95% Muslim population of the Valley[7]. The Dogra rule was responsible for disseminating in the minds of its subjects, the seeds of resentment against its very existence.

The socioeconomic conditions of the Muslims became unsympathetic which finally led to the politicization of the Muslim community in the form of a series of protests. The primary preoccupation of Dogra rule was to maintain law and order, streamline tax collection, and ensure defense, often at the expense of the majority working in the fields and factories[8].

In conclusion, the Dogra rule in Jammu and Kashmir was characterized by autocratic land policies and heavy taxation, which led to significant shifts in landownership patterns and socioeconomic disparities. The impact of these policies continues to influence the socioeconomic fabric of the region to this day.

 The Dawn of a New Era (1947 – 1950)

The Jammu and Kashmir Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 [9], was a significant piece of legislation in Jammu and Kashmir’s postindependence period. This Act was enacted to address socioeconomic imbalances and empower the local population by eliminating large landed estates and redistributing land among marginal farmers.

The Act imposed a ceiling on land ownership at 186 kanals (approximately 22 acres). Any land beyond this limit was confiscated by the government without any compensation to the original landowners. This excess land was then redistributed among the farmers who were tilling the same land.

The impact of the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, was profound. It triggered a significant shift in landownership patterns, as a considerable number of marginal farmers and landless laborers became landowners. This redistribution of land not only transformed the agrarian landscape but also had farreaching implications for the socioeconomic structure of Jammu and Kashmir[10].

The Act was popularly known as the ‘Land To Tiller’ Act, and it significantly transformed the sociopolitical landscape of the region, liberating hundreds of thousands of poor peasants from feudal autocracy and reducing the power of landlords and ruling elites. The Act was a defining moment in Kashmir’s history, significantly transforming the sociopolitical and economic complexion of the Kashmiri society[10].

In conclusion, the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, was a landmark legislation that brought about significant changes in the land laws of Jammu and Kashmir, leading to a more equitable distribution of land and contributing to the socioeconomic development of the region.

 After the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, several other significant land reforms were introduced in Jammu and Kashmir:

The Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976

This Act was a continuation of the land reform process initiated by the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950. It aimed to further reform land ownership patterns and tenancy rights in the state. The Act introduced measures for the transfer of land to the tillers, subject to certain conditions, and aimed at better utilization of land in the state. According to the Act, no proprietor could hold more than 182 kanals of land, and any rights and interests in land exceeding this ceiling were extinguished and transferred to the state. The legislation also facilitated the rehabilitation of parties expropriated from land and made provisions for surplus land to be given to landless and poor individuals. Additionally, the Act further reduced the ceiling on land ownership to 12.5 “standard acres” (excluding orchards) [13].

 Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, 1938

Although this Act was introduced before the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, it played a significant role in regulating the transfer of agricultural land in the state. The Act aimed to prevent the transfer of land from agriculturists to nonagriculturists, thereby protecting the rights of the farming community[12].

 The Land Grants Act, 1960

This Act provided a legal framework for the allocation of governmentowned lands for various purposes, including agricultural, residential, and commercial uses. It regulated the grant of government lands in the state[11].

These reforms, along with the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, played a significant role in shaping the socioeconomic landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. They had farreaching implications for land ownership, agricultural productivity, and rural development in the region.

The Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976 [14], stands as a significant piece of legislation, building upon the foundation laid by the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950. Here are the key provisions and impact of the Act:

 Objectives of the Act

 Abolishment of absentee landlordism and empowerment of tillers as owners of cultivated land[2].

 Implementation of a ceiling on landholding with excess land transferred to the state for redistribution among tillers.

 Ceiling on Land Ownership

 Limiting proprietors to a maximum of 182 kanals of land (approximately 22.75 acres).

 Extinguishing rights and interests exceeding the ceiling, transferring them to the state.

 Transfer of Land to Tillers

 Provision for the transfer of land to tillers under specified conditions, enhancing land utilization.

 Expropriation of Excess Land

 State expropriation of land exceeding the ceiling without compensation to original landowners.

 Redistribution of expropriated land among the tillers cultivating it.

 Rehabilitation and Allocation Provisions

 Provisions for the rehabilitation of parties expropriated from land.

 Allocation of surplus land to landless and poor individuals.

 Definitions and Miscellaneous Provisions

 Definitions for key terms like “Demarcated Forest,” “Evacuees Land,” “Head of the Family,” etc.

 Inclusion of miscellaneous provisions, including rulemaking power, succession, inapplicability, repeal, and validation.

 Impact on Landownership Patterns

 Significant shift in landownership patterns, empowering marginal farmers and landless laborers as landowners.

 Aimed at enhancing agricultural production and efficiency by ensuring land ownership by actual tillers.

The Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, represents a continued effort to redistribute land and empower the rural population, addressing historical socioeconomic imbalances in the region.

The changes in land management in Jammu and Kashmir from 1976 to 2018 have been significantly influenced by several legislative acts and schemes.

The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, 1938, aimed to regulate the transfer of land in the region. It prohibited the transfer of land in favor of nonState subjects, while permitting the transfer of land in the form of a simple mortgage to the Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd. and other Scheduled Banks. This Act played a crucial role in preserving the demographic and socioeconomic structure of the region by restricting land ownership to state subjects.

The Land Grants Act, 1960, provided for the grant of lands by the government. It allowed the government to lease land for various purposes, including building and agricultural activities. The Act also gave the government the right of reentry upon the expiry of a lease and the power to enhance ground rent. This Act facilitated the organized distribution of land and helped in the planned development of the region.

The Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana (PMAY), previously known as the Indira Awaas Yojana, is a social welfare program aimed at providing affordable housing to the underprivileged. In Jammu and Kashmir, this scheme has significantly impacted land utilization by turning the dreams of the underprivileged into reality.

The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA) has also influenced land acquisition in the region. This Act, passed when the state was under intense security concerns, has facilitated the expropriation of land for military use. As of 2018, military forces had illegally seized nearly 54,000 acres of land in Kashmir. The AFSPA has been controversial due to its impact on land acquisition and human rights concerns [15].

2019 and aftermath

The abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, led to significant changes in the legal and constitutional framework of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), including the land laws. Article 370 had granted special autonomy to J&K, allowing it to have its own constitution, flag, and autonomy over the internal administration of the state, except in matters of finance, defense, foreign affairs, and communications[10]. The special status under Article 370 included provisions like Article 35A, which allowed the state to define who its “permanent residents” were and provided them with special rights and privileges, particularly in relation to land ownership [19].

Following the abrogation of Article 370, the Ministry of Home Affairs introduced amendments to 14 laws of the former state of J&K and repealed 12 others. Two of the laws that were repealed — the Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, 1938, and the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 — provided protections on land holdings for permanent residents. The amendments also affected four major state laws that governed ownership, sale, and purchase of land in the erstwhile state. These are The J&K Development Act, 1970, The J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996, The Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, and The J&K Land Grants Act, 1960 [18].

Key changes in the land laws include:

1. The government can now declare any area as “strategic” for use by the armed forces, take over any land for “industrial use” or “public use” or “any other use”[16]

2. The amendments to the Land Revenue Act allow the government or an officer authorized by it to grant permission to a nonagriculturist to purchase agricultural land[16]

3. A domicile law introduced in 2020 permits anyone who has lived in the region for 15 years or studied for seven years, entitling them to apply for land and jobs[17].

4. The term “being permanent resident of the state” as a condition for purchasing land in the region has been removed, paving the way for even nonKashmiri Indians to purchase land in the region[18].

The implications of these changes are significant. They have opened up land ownership in J&K to nonresidents, which was previously restricted to permanent residents of the state. This has led to anxieties over land ownership among the local population, with concerns about potential demographic changes and loss of control over land resources[17]. Critics argue that these changes are an erosion of the rights of Kashmiri people. However, the government maintains that these changes are part of its policy to apply all Indian laws uniformly across the country and that they will bring development to the region[18].


The evolution of land laws in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been marked by significant shifts, particularly in the context of the region’s unique political and social dynamics. Here’s a summary of the key developments and potential future implications:

 Summary of the Evolution of Land Laws in Jammu and Kashmir

 Pre 1947: Under Dogra rule, land ownership was concentrated among Hindu landlords, while Muslim peasants were largely landless. This created a system of exploitation and led to widespread discontent among the peasant population. [2]

 1947 – 1950s: The government led by Sheikh Abdullah initiated land reforms with the objective of redistributing land to the tillers, thereby empowering the peasant class. The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act was a landmark law that dismantled the feudal zamindari system and transferred land to the actual cultivators. [2]

 1970s: A second phase of land reforms was introduced under the Agrarian Reforms Act, which imposed further caps on land holdings and redistributed surplus land to small peasants. These reforms solidified the land rights of local residents and aimed to reduce economic disparities . [2]

 Post 2019: The abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, led to the end of J&K’s special autonomous status. The protections provided by Article 35A were removed, allowing nonresidents to purchase land in the region. The extension of central land laws to J&K has resulted in a weakening of regional land rights [21].

In summary, J&K experienced progressive land reforms aimed at social justice from 1947 to the 1970s. However, the changes following the abrogation of Article 370 have reversed many of these protections and opened up land purchases to nonlocals, raising concerns about potential demographic changes [20].

 Potential Future Developments [21]

 Dilution of Local Land Laws: There may be further changes to laws such as the Agrarian Reforms Act to facilitate the purchase of agricultural land by corporations for mining, industry, etc., which could lead to the displacement of local communities.

 Demographic Changes: Without regulations such as domicile laws to control land ownership, there could be significant demographic shifts, particularly in sensitive border regions, which may affect the region’s politics.

 Legal Challenges: Regional parties may continue to legally challenge the changed land laws. However, given J&K’s reduced constitutional status, such challenges may have limited success.

 Investment and Economic Development: There could be increased land based investment, especially in Jammu and around urban centers. However, there is a risk that locals may be priced out due to their limited financial capacity.

 Policy Safeguards: The government may attempt to strike a balance between opening the land market to boost investment and retaining certain protections, considering the historical context of land rights in Kashmir.

While the government argues that the changes to land laws are intended to promote economic development, the long term effects on demographic shifts, political autonomy, and local land alienation require careful monitoring. Appropriate policy safeguards should be considered to address these concerns [21].

Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, an Advocate based in Anantnag Jammu & Kashmir.  Education: B.Com, LL.B from School of law University of Kashmir Srinagar can be reached at



[1] Naik, Showkat Ahmad. “LANDLORDS, PEASANTS AND THE DOGRA RULE IN KASHMIR.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 73 (2012): 782–93.

[2] PRASAD, ANIRUDH KUMAR. “Sheikh Abdullah and Land Reforms in Jammu and Kashmir.” Economic and Political Weekly 49, no. 31 (2014): 130–37.

[3]  Naik, Showkat Ahmad. “LAND REFORM MEASURES IN KASHMIR DURING DOGRA RULE.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 72 (2011): 587–603.

[4] By Inderjeet Singh. 2017. “Evaluation of the Sikh Rule in Kashmir.” SikhNet. November 20, 2017.





[9]. Jammu and Kashmir Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950](

[10]. [Agrarian Reform in Jammu & Kashmir](

11. [The Land Grants Act, 1960](

12. [Land Reform and Development in Jammu & Kashmir](

13. [Land Reform in Kashmir](

14. [Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976](









The Bar Council of India does not permit advertisement or solicitation by advocates in any form or manner. By accessing this website,, you acknowledge and confirm that you are seeking information relating to Law Offices of Advocate Mushtaq Ahmad Dar of your own accord and that there has been no form of solicitation, advertisement or inducement by our Law Offices or its members. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as soliciting or advertisement. No material/information provided on this website should be construed as legal advice. The Law Offices ( shall not be liable for the consequences of any action taken by relying on the material/information provided on this website. The contents of this website are the intellectual property of Advocate Mushtaq Ahmad Dar.