After the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, which now allows anyone to buy land in J&K and Ladakh, the attention has now shifted to Himachal Pradesh, which is protected by Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act. Now, people are comparing the Article 118 to Article 370, which prevented anyone outside the state or UT to buy any land.
Even though some concerns were raised about being unable to buy land in Himachal being in India, the legalities are a lot different than that of Article 370. It is true that not anyone can just go ahead and buy agricultural land in the state, but it doesn't put a blanket ban on anyone outside HP trying to purchase a property in Himachal.
Who can and cannot buy land in Himachal?
Section 188 doesn't stop anyone to buy land or plot in the urban areas from the Himachal Pradesh Housing and Urban Development Authority. There are no permissions required to buy or lease a built-up property in the area falling within the municipal corporation, municipal committee, notified area committee and cantonment boards. But things change completely in the case of purchasing agricultural land.
Any land outside municipal limits is designated as agricultural land, which is protected by Section 118. There's a misconception that Section 118 prohibits the sale of agricultural land, but it's more of a regulation to avoid the accumulation of land in the hands of a few who can actually afford and prevent alienation of agriculturalists from their land.
"Close to 90 per cent of the state's population lives in villages and is engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Agricultural land continues to be scarce, and close to 60 per cent of landholding is less than 6 bighas. With no protection, won't these marginal farmers, when in distress, be susceptible to sell their land? For weaker and backward sections, protection is needed. A similar law ensures that no outsider, including the Himachalis, can buy land in the tribal district of Kinnaur," Rakesh Singha, CPI(M) MLA from Theog was quoted as saying by Tribune India.
Under Section 118, a non-agriculturalist cannot purchase an agricultural plot. This applies to buyers from any state, including Himachal. But there are provisions, under which a non-agriculturalist can purchase a plot in Himachal - provided the state government approves it.
First, a non-agriculturalist must apply and state the reason to buy the land. The state government holds the final decision and the land can be procured for various reasons besides agriculture, such as setting up an industrial unit, educational institute, tourism etc.
"People can get up to 4 acres of land to practice agriculture, and a maximum of 500 square metres for residential purposes," Tribune India quoted an anonymous senior bureaucrat. But the permissions aren't granted easily. Most of the applications are denied at DC office-level itself following a stringent vetting process of documents and NOCs.
Besides Himachal, there are various other states that have laws the allow only an agriculturalist to purchase farmland. Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat are among many states that have similar laws preserving the agricultural stature of the country.