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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Abdullahs infringed on land for offices, house: J&K probe

Denying the allegations, the National Conference on Tuesday said, "The news attributed to sources that Dr Farooq Abdullah is a beneficiary of the Roshni Act is completely false and is being spread with malicious intent.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi | Updated: November 25, 2020 12:14:47 pm
farooq abdullah omarJ&K former CM Farooq Abdullah (File Photo)

THE J&K administration on Tuesday claimed that National Conference (NC) leaders and former chief ministers Farooq and Omar Abdullah are among encroachers of state land, saying their residence in Jammu was built on illegally occupied land.

The administration also included Farooq Abdullah’s sister Suraiya Matto, NC offices in Jammu and Srinagar, and a Trust once owned by the Congress in its fresh list of illegal beneficiaries of the Roshni Act.

According to investigations carried out by the UT administration, in 1998, the Abdullahs allegedly bought three kanals from different land owners in village Sunjwan in Jammu’s Bahu tehsil to build their residence. However, instead of taking possession of the three kanals of private land, they allegedly encroached on more than seven kanals of a nearby prime state and forest land.

“The market value of the encroached land is around Rs. 10 crore going by prevalent land valuation,” a J&K official said.

Their names are part of a list of encroached land “other than Roshni”, where the land is “physically encroached but not shown in revenue records”. The list of “encroachers” also has names of businessman Mushtaq Chaya and Ashfaq Mir, who has been identified as the son of J&K High Court judge Justice (retd) Ali Mohammed Mir.

Denying the allegations, the National Conference on Tuesday said, “The news attributed to sources that Dr Farooq Abdullah is a beneficiary of the Roshni Act is completely false and is being spread with malicious intent. Dr Farooq Abdullah has not availed of the Roshni scheme for either his residence in Srinagar or in Jammu and anyone who says otherwise is lying.”

In the list of alleged illegal beneficiaries of the Roshni Act are the twin offices of the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir. According to the list, Sher-e-Kashmir Bhawan of the National Conference in Jammu had 3 kanal and 16 marla of land, which was regularised under the Act. Similarly, in Srinagar, the party got 3 kanal and 16 marla of land in the name of Nawai-Subah Trust.

The names are part of a list of close to 2,000 beneficiaries of the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act 2001– commonly known as the Roshni Act — and other encroachers of state and forest land, published by the UT administration. Under the Act, undue concessions were allegedly given for regularisation of land conversion at rates far below those stipulated and the cut-off year kept getting shifted.

So far, 167 names in Kashmir and 1,781 names in Jammu have been published by the administration. Sources said more lists may be published in due course to abide by the directions of the J&K High Court, which had called the Act “unconstitutional” in October this year, ordering a CBI enquiry and asking the UT administration to publish names of all encroachers.

Among the alleged illegal beneficiaries of the Act is also Farooq Abdullah’s sister Suraiya Mattoo. For the regularisation of 3 kanals and 12 marla of land, Mattoo was supposed to pay Rs 1 crore to the state. The same has not been paid yet, according to the administration.

Also in the list of beneficiaries is Khidmat Trust at Jhelum Bund in Srinagar. The Trust, which also runs the Khidmet Press and a commercial building, was given seven kanals and 15 marlas of land under the Roshni Act in Srinagar.

The Khidmat Trust was established in September 1992 by the Congress with former state party chief Ghulam Rasool Kar as its first managing trustee. The trustees included Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, M L Fotedar and Mangat Ram Sharma. In 2015, Kar transferred the Trust to his family members.

The Roshni Act proposed that ownership rights be given to persons holding state land unauthorisedly till the cut-off year of 1990, on payment equivalent to the market rate prevailing that year, as “eviction of these lands is very difficult, if not impossible”. In 2005, the PDP government led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed relaxed the cut-off year to 2004, which was further relaxed to 2007 under the Congress government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad (the Congress and PDP were in alliance at the time).

The objective of the Act was to raise resources for harnessing the hydro-electricity potential of the state. While the government had expected to realise over Rs 25,000 crore as regularisation fees, a 2014 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General had noted that only Rs 76 crore had been realised from the transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013.

Investigations have revealed irregularities such as undervaluation of land, vesting of ownership without any payment to the state, and regularisation of prohibited encroachments such as those on forest lands.

In 2011, a retired professor, S K Bhalla, filed a PIL alleging large-scale encroachment of state and forest land across J&K. In 2014, Bhalla filed another PIL, seeking vigilance inquiry and action against the guilty. On November 28, 2018, the State Administrative Council repealed the Act and cancelled all pending applications. The Anti-Corruption Bureau registered 17 FIRs.

On October 9, the High Court passed an order on Bhalla’s PIL, calling for a CBI inquiry and cancelling all allotments “ab initio (from the beginning)”. The court also declared the Roshni Act “unconstitutional, contrary to law and unsustainable”, and ordered the UT administration to recover all land given away under the legislation.

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