The State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Jammu & Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik last week repealed the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, popularly known as the Roshni Act, because it had “failed to realise the desired objectives and there were also reports of misuse of some its provisions”.
The original Act
The Roshni Act envisaged the transfer of ownership rights of state land to its occupants, subject to the payment of a cost, as determined by the government. It was enacted by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s government, and it set 1990 as the cutoff for encroachment on state land. The government’s target was to earn Rs 25,000 crore by transferring 20 lakh kanals of state land to existing occupants against payment at market rates. The government said the revenue generated would be spent on commissioning hydroelectric power projects, hence the name “Roshni”.
In 2005, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP-Congress government relaxed the cutoff year to 2004. During the tenure of Ghulam Nabi Azad, who replaced Sayeed as Chief Minister under a three-year rotation agreement, the cutoff was relaxed further to 2007. The government also gave ownership rights of agricultural land to farmers occupying it for free, charging them only Rs 100 per kanal as documentation fee.
Allegations and probe
Investigations into the land transfers subsequently found that land in Gulmarg had been given over to ineligible beneficiaries. In 2009, the State Vigilance Organisation registered an FIR against several government officials for alleged criminal conspiracy to illegally possess and vest ownership of state land to occupants who did not satisfy criteria under the Roshni Act.
In 2014, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimated that against the targeted Rs 25,000 crore, only Rs 76 crore had been realised from the transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013, thus defeating the purpose of the legislation. The report blamed irregularities including arbitrary reduction in prices fixed by a standing committee, and said this was done to benefit politicians and affluent people.
The Principal Accountant General (Audit) sent a copy of these findings to the State Vigilance Organisation for investigations. Then Revenue Minister Ajaz Ahmad Khan described the CAG findings as “motivated”, but said the government would analyse them and take action in cases where provisions of the Roshni scheme had not been followed.
The Vigilance Organisation completed investigations in five cases by March 2015, and indicted nearly two dozen officials, including three former deputy commissioners for allegedly misusing the provisions of the scheme. It sought sanction to prosecute the accused, which is yet to be granted.
In November 2018, the High Court restrained all beneficiaries of the Roshni scheme from selling or carrying out any other transaction in respect of the land transferred to them.
The decision to repeal the Roshni Act came after demands from IkkJutt Jammu, a hardline Hindu group set up recently by one Ankur Sharma, an advocate. Sharma, who was instrumental in setting up the Hindu Ekta Manch to support the accused in the gangrape and murder of the 8-year-old Bakerwal girl in January, had in 2014 approached the High Court seeking court-monitored investigations into the transfer of land under the Act. On November 20, Sharma asked the Governor to withdraw the Act in order to “defeat the jihadi war in the form of demographic invasion of Jammu”.
Sharma had accused former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti of “spearheading an Islamo-fascist agenda for demographic change in Jammu’s Hindu-dominated areas”. He has also called for a social and economic boycott of the Gujjars and Bakerwals.
The Gujjar and Bakerwal groups in Jammu have been upset with the repeal of the Act. They have said that while the rich and influential managed to grab the benefits, their applications had remained pending.
What the repeal means
The SAC has ordered cancellation of all pending applications seeking vesting of ownership rights of state lands to their occupants. However, cases where such rights have already been transferred will hold.