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Former ministers, officers in list of illegal land deal beneficiaries in J&K

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.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi | Updated: November 24, 2020 2:43:58 pm
Haseeb DrabuHaseeb Drabu

Former PDP leader Haseeb Drabu and three of his relatives; Congress treasurer K K Amla and three of his family members; and four National Conference leaders, including Sajjad Kichloo and Haroon Chaudhary, figure in a list of around 400 alleged illegal beneficiaries prepared by the J&K administration in relation to the Roshni land scam.

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.

The list, prepared on the directions of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, also names former Congress minister and ex-Doda MLA Abdul Majid Wani and former chairman of J&K Bank M Y Khan. The court had directed the names to be put in the public domain, and more are expected to come out.

Last month, the High Court ordered a CBI probe into the allocation of land under the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act 2001– commonly known as the Roshni Act. The CBI has registered multiple FIRs in the matter. The court also asked for a list of beneficiaries.

In its order, the High Court mentioned names of former revenue minister and senior Congress leader Raman Bhalla, apart from some businessmen. The latest status report submitted by the Jammu Divisional Commissioner and Chief Conservator of Forests to the court in the case names an educational trust run by former BJP minister and ex-MLA from Kalakote Abdul Gani Kohli.

Sources said hundreds of acres of forest and state land was illegally transferred to influential politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats and judicial functionaries all over J&K under the Act, with the quantum of the alleged scam pegged at over Rs 25,000 crore.

Others in the list include hotelier Mishtaq Ahmed Chaya, retired IAS officer (chief secretary rank) Mohd Shafi Pandit and his wife Nighat, former NC leader and Advocate General Aslam Goni and several government officials and former legislators.

Drabu, the former J&K finance minister, said in 1956, his grandfather had purchased 4 kanals (0.5 acres) “from a judge of the High Court”. “He paid the stamp duty and other fees to the government. We have all the documents. When my grandfather passed away, it went to my father. In 2006 or 2007-8 — I don’t remember exactly — the government offered a scheme to convert leasehold into freehold at a fixed premium. After 2012 or 13, my father did the family settlement. Out of the 4 kanals of land, I got 1 kanal (0.125 acres), my brother, mother and cousin also got a kanal of land each. So what do I say, where is the scam? It is all rubbish. At that time (the Roshni scheme), I was not even in any government position.”

Ex-minister Abdul Majid Wani, named in the list, denied having encroached any land, or got any regularised under the Roshni Act. “With the grace of the Almighty, I have not committed such illegal things. However, I lawfully purchased a piece of land at Nowabad, Sunjwan (Jammu), in 1994.” While the phone of NC leader and former Kishtwar MLA Kichloo was switched off, a call to party colleague’s Goni’s number reached a message saying the incoming facility was not available.

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”. In 2005, the PDP government led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed relaxed the cut-off year to 2004, which was further moved 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 hydro-electric projects. While the government expected to realise over Rs 25,000 crore as regularisation fees, a 2014 CAG report 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, and regularisation of prohibited encroachments such as those on forest lands. In 2007, sources said, there were instances of agricultural land being given away literally free, and urban land being transferred at huge discounts. Rules were framed to allow change of use of agricultural and forest lands to commercial, sources said.

NC leader Mohammad Sayeed Akhoon, whose name is in the list prepared by the government of beneficiaries, said, “I have only a plot of land in Jammu. I purchased it from a resident in 1993-94 when I left the Valley following militancy. It was then a deserted area. When the Roshni scheme was announced, I paid the price fixed by the government.”

Retired IAS officer Mohammad Shafi Pandit said the land in question had been leased to his mother-in-law in 1953. “The lease was renewed again in 1976 and was valid till 2016. But before that the government came up with the Roshni scheme… The government was not renewing the lease and we had to pay for it. We paid decent rates, which were 25 per cent of the market price. This is higher than the price the government paid for land acquired for its own projects. Also this is a norm in almost every state and land is given to people at 10-15 per cent of the market value.”

In 2011, a retired professor, S K Bhalla, filed a PIL on the matter. In 2014, following the CAG revelations, Bhalla filed another PIL, seeking a vigilance inquiry. On November 28, 2018, the State Administrative Council under then Governor Satyapal Malik repealed the Act and cancelled all pending applications. The Anti-Corruption Bureau registered 17 FIRs in the matter.

On October 9 this year, the High Court passed an order on Bhalla’s PIL directing 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.

The court further ordered the administration to publish all information related to the Act on a website. This included details of the state land which was in unauthorised occupation, along with the identity of the encroachers; the applications received under the Roshni Act, 2001; the valuation of the land; the amounts paid by the beneficiaries; the persons who had been granted ownership; and also further transfers, if any, recognised by the authorities.

It also asked the government to publish details of all influential persons and those holding benami land for them, who benefited under the Roshni Act.

with ENS, Srinagar, Jammu

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