Srinagar: A decision that earned former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti applaud for its women friendly nature is the implementation of ‘no stamp duty for women’ order. The decision that was termed ‘historic’ was taken on May 12, 2018: abolishing stamp duty on women, approving zero percent stamp duty on purchase of property in the name of females.
However, the Governor Satyapal Malik JK recently revoked the order ‘for public interest’ receiving criticism from activists, politicians and locals.
For Urban areas, a stamp duty of 5 per cent and for rural areas, that of 3 per cent was approved to be levied.
Stamp duty is an obligatory tax levied on documents including housing registration, and directly earns state revenue. Prior to the implementation of the ‘no stamp duty for women’ order, women would pay 5 per cent stamp duty on an estate purchased within municipal limits and 3.5 per cent in rural areas, while men would pay 7 and 5 per cent respectively.
What it means for business and financial independence
Valley’s renowned entrepreneur Dr Gazala Amin, who is also a member of the powerful trade body Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), says that the move disempowers women in more way than one.
“It was about making a system that automatically financially empowers women. If one looks at the business part of it, the banks don’t sanction loans if you don’t have anything to mortgage,” she says adding that many legislations focusing on women empowerment, women have been declared as a marginalized community.
She says that when there is lesser tax for women in purchasing property, automatically there will be an increase in the number of properties being registered in women’s names.
This ‘blessing in disguise’ of sorts ensures financial independence, and with assets in immovable property, more women can approach banks for business capital, and own enterprises.
“Our hereditary laws in Islam are reasonable but not many people follow them and it is not documented anywhere. Women are expected to give away their share once they get married,” she says.
What the revocation means socially
According to activist and lawyer Shehryar Khanum, no stakeholders were asked to suggest anything before revoking the order.
“The governor has the authority to revoke the order, however, there are many other ways by which the government can make up for its losses,” she says.
“The women in Kashmir often sell their jewellery after marriage and buy property in the name of their husbands. When they separate, she has nothing left of her own. Even in families here, the property is taken by the men. Rarely a couple buys a property jointly,” says Khanum.
“With the abolition of the stamp duty people were buying property in their names, not with an intention to benefit them but to save some money. However, it was ultimately doing good for women.”
“Real empowerment takes place when you change the policies, rules and regulations. While some people debate that women should be treated like men but we cannot ignore the fact that they are a marginalized disadvantaged group and if something is done to kick start the process of getting them to a point where they are actually equal, that should be welcomed,” she says.
Divita Shandilya, an activist working with ActionAid, in a piece that was published in 2018, has argued that owning property also gives women who face abuse an option to leave.
However, according to a lawyer practising in High Court Srinagar, there will not be much difference in the way people were increasingly registering their properties in the name of women in the family as now women will have to pay 3 per cent as stamp duty and men 7 per cent (almost double the amount).
“It is not mentioned in the new order but the decision was taken due to the revenue loss the state was incurring. I spoke to a judge. They had formed a panel where it was discussed that in Srinagar High Court a loss of around Rs 100 Crore per month was being incurred. And it was implemented in all districts which means the loss was huge. So, they revoked the order,” said a lawyer practicing in the high court on the condition of anonymity.
The decision was then taken to empower women, he says adding, “the Governor is not concerned about votes. So, he suppressed the order meaning that it is as if it did not exist at all.”
He also said that those women who have completed their registration will not have to worry about it but those whose documents are pending in court will have to pay the stamp duty.
The odds pertaining to the loss of revenue existed when the order was implemented. Still, the decision was taken.
Need for action
Entrepreneur Dr Gazala Amin says, “40 per cent of agricultural work is done by women and they only own 9 per cent property. If you take a step for the marginalized community, on what basis can you revoke it?” she asks adding that no survey has been done or made public which ascertains the loss percentage due to the order in favour of women.
She also says that some people do take undue advantage of government orders “but that is a small percentage and that will always be there.”
“The timing is odd. They did not even ask the opinion from anyone. Everyone appreciated the abolition order. It definitely helped women in every way.”
“There needs to be an agitation against the revocation order,” she says.
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