The Jammu & Kashmir administration has recently released a series of lists of alleged beneficiaries of the Roshni Act of 2001, now scrapped, which gave ownership rights to the unauthorised occupants of state land against payment of a premium. Political leaders and bureaucrats have been among those named. The transfers are being probed by the CBI.
Following a recent order by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court, the administration has annulled the Act (it was earlier repealed prospectively) and decided to retrieve land transferred under the Roshni scheme. Right-wing groups in Jammu have described the scheme as being aimed at changing the demography of Jammu region, while mainstream political parties have accused the government of being selective against Muslims.
What was the Roshni Act?
Formally the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, it was passed by the then National Conference government led by Farooq Abdullah to give ownership to people in possession of state land, with a cut-off of 1990, and against a payment as determined by the government. Since the aim was to generate resources for hydroelectric power projects, it was called Roshni (Light) Act.
In 2005, the PDP-Congress coalition government led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed amended the Act to relax the cut-off year from 1990 to 2004. In a later amendment, the Ghulam Nabi Azad government set the premium at 25% of the market rate and the cut-off date at 2007. The government gave free ownership rights on agricultural land to farmers occupying it, who only needed to pay Rs 100 per kanal of land as documentation fee.
How much was transferred and how much did the government earn?
At the time it passed the Act, the government expected to transfer the ownership of 20.46 lakh kanals (1.02 lakh hectares) of state land — 16.02 lakh kanals in Jammu region and 4.44 lakh kanals in Kashmir. The government set a speculative target of Rs 25,000 crore.
However, transfer of ownership was approved for only 6.04 lakh kanals — 5.71 lakh kanals in Jammu and 33,392 kanals in Kashmir. And only 3.48 lakh kanals land was actually transferred. The government revised its target to Rs 317.55 crore, and earned only Rs 76.46 crore — Rs 54.05 crore from Kashmir (target Rs 123.49 crore) and Rs 22.40 crore from Jammu region (target Rs 194.06 crore).
Ownership of 3 lakh kanals (17,500 hectares) has been vested in Jammu region as against 33,000 kanals in Kashmir. In Kashmir, most of this land had been leased out to business houses and for residential purposes, in some cases for almost 100 years.
J&K Roshni Act: Why has it been controversial?
In its 2014 report, the CAG termed the scheme a Rs-25,000-crore scam. It flagged irregularities and said arbitrary reduction of prices by a standing committee was done to benefit politicians and influential people.
Shortly after the government had approved the Act, the then State Vigilance Organisation filed an FIR against some people who didn’t satisfy the criteria but managed to vest ownership of land under the scheme. A prominent case came to be known as the Gulmarg land scam, in which several top bureaucrats are accused of illegally transferring land of the Gulmarg Development Authority to private parties. One of the main accused in this case, IAS officer Baseer Ahmad Khan, was appointed Adviser to the Lt Governor of J&K in March this year. No action was taken against top bureaucrats in similar cases in Jammu region. A petition was also filed in the High Court to check violations of the Act based on the 17 FIRs.
When was the Roshni Act scrapped?
In October 2018, then Governor Satya Pal Malik repealed the Roshni Act prospectively. “All pending proceedings under the Act shall stand cancelled immediately… any action taken under the provisions of the repealed Act shall not be invalid,” his order read.
In September 2019, Malik ordered a probe by the state Anti-Corruption Bureau into all dealings under the Roshni Scheme. Following this, another petition was filed in the High Court seeking transfer of the probe to the CBI. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
What did the court say?
In October this year, the High Court declared the Roshni Act “illegal, unconstitutional and unsustainable” and held allotments under the Act as void ab initio. It ordered a CBI probe into transfer of ownership, sought action against bureaucrats involved, and asked the government to make public the names of prominent people allotted land. In lists of beneficiaries made public sofar, names of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen were enumerated with parents’ names, residence, job profile and affiliation. For others, only names and parents’ names were specified.
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Why did groups in Jammu campaign against the Roshni Act?
Some right-wings groups in Jammu have alleged the Roshni Act was meant to change the demography of the Hindu-majority Jammu district. “The court observation has proved that there was a demographic change. Thirty thousand cases of land transfer were reported in the state government order, out of which over 25,000 cases were from Jammu and only 4,500 from Kashmir,” said petitioner and lawyer Ankur Sharma, who heads the group Ik Jutt Jammu.
Government figures show that ownership rights have been transferred for 44,912 kanals in Jammu district — which is more than the land transferred in the entire Kashmir Valley.
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