DAYS AFTER MAKING public names of prominent politicians of Opposition parties occupying state land, the Jammu and Kashmir government has sought a review of the J&K High Court’s October 9 judgment which ab initio declared the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act, 2001 — also called the Roshni Act — null and void.
In its judgment, the High Court had ordered a CBI probe and also asked the government to ensure annulment of mutation of property under the Act, and work out modalities to evict encroachers from state land and retrieve it within six months.
The review petition dated December 4, filed by Nazir Ahmad Thakur, Special Secretary (Revenue), on behalf of the J&K Union Territory government, sought to distinguish between “landless cultivators and individuals residing in dwellings on small areas” and “rich and wealthy land grabbers” who have obtained a title over state land through the provisions of the now struck down Act.
The government decision has drawn sharp criticism from various quarters, especially those who had challenged the Roshni Act. Advocate Sheikh Shakeel, counsel for Prof S K Bhalla who had originally filed a PIL against the Roshni Act, said this reflected the realisation that implementing the High Court orders was going to hit only the BJP’s interests. In Jammu, of the 44,000 kanals of state land regularised under Roshni, Muslims were vested with ownership rights to only 1,180 kanals, he said. It is anybody’s guess who the beneficiaries of the balance over 42,000 kanals of land are, he said.
Landless vs ‘wealthy’
THE annulment of the Roshni Act by the High Court put the spotlight on prominent politicians who benefited from its provisions. But there were thousands of common people who too could transfer land ownership under the same Act. The political fallout has been double-edged; while it attempted to vilify mainstream politicians, it also affected landless cultivators and individuals. Now, the J&K government wants to distinguish between the two classes.
In the petition, the government said, “The fact of either being a landless cultivator or house-holder with at the most one dwelling house in personal use, would be the primary criteria for differentiating between two classes.” It also sought time to allow the government to fix an appropriate ceiling on and a rate so that the common people continue to remain in possession of land. There will be no relief for encroachers above these ceilings, it said.
Apprehending the HC order may lead to an unintended “roving enquiry” by the CBI, the review petition said the court’s intent was to probe any mala fide in the manner the Roshni Act and its Rules were framed, and also to identify the wealthy and influential individuals who manipulated the system to obtain benefits under the Roshni Act or encroached upon public land.
The petition further stated it must have not been the court’s intent to have detailed investigations into thousands of government functionaries who implemented the Act, as it was framed then, without any mala fide intent.
The review petition also sought the court’s directions to CBI to focus on influential and powerful people who defrauded the state. The agency may focus on design of legal and policy framework and changes thereto with mala fide intention to encroach public land and get possessory rights, fraudulent transactions made by private individuals with or without the connivance of government officials, encroachments on government land not brought under Roshni and not even mentioned in records, besides wrongful implementation of Roshni Act and actions thereof, it said.
Pointing out that the cases being probed the Anti Corruption Bureau were at different stages of investigation, including prosecution sanction, charge sheet, etc, the government said transfer of such cases will delay bringing the guilty to book. It requested the court to order ACB to take necessary action in these cases and if any elements like fraud, manipulation or malafide intent comes to light, transfer them to CBI.
BJP’s chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi said the party opposed any sort of encroachment on state land and welcomed the declaration of Roshni Act as void. Stating he was yet to see the review petition, he said the government probably wanted to avoid inconvenience to landless peasants and homeless people who too have got small landholdings under the Act.
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