The government’s petition before the Jammu & Kashmir High Court seeking a review of its October 9 ruling that the Roshni Act was “illegal, unconstitutional and unsustainable” reeks of hypocrisy. The legislation, formally titled the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, was enacted by the National Conference government of the day, to regularise both encroached and leased government lands. The stated intent was to raise money for power projects. The original cut-off date of 1990 was extended by subsequent governments. In 2018, then Governor Satya Pal Malik halted the further implementation of the Act due to allegations of corruption. When the High Court struck down the Act, and ordered a CBI investigation against officials who had implemented it, the BJP jubilantly declared it to be a “surgical strike against land jihad”.
From the start, the narrative on the Roshni Act sought to project that political and other elites in “Muslim” Kashmir were usurping government land, and were backing less privileged Muslims to do the same in “Hindu” Jammu. The government used the Court order asking it to publicise the names of beneficiaries to give out the names of Kashmiri political leaders and others who had benefited from the act just ahead of the District Development Council elections. If the timing of this “naming and shaming” was suspect, the list itself was selective. Now that the lists show that the beneficiaries, furious about losing their property rights, are both in the Valley and in Jammu, the “land jihad” narrative appears to be unravelling. Egregiously, the government, which had earlier said it would start retrieving state lands from the beneficiaries expeditiously, now wants the Court to do two things — one aimed at protecting a political constituency, and the other itself. In the first instance, it wants the court to modify its order to differentiate between “rich and influential” beneficiaries and the “common people” who might be rendered landless or homeless, though it must know only too well that any such a distinction would be arbitrary, discriminatory and bad in law. Second, it also wants the court to prevent what it fears may be “an unintended roving inquiry by the CBI, which may go on endlessly without generating the results sought by the High Court”.
J&K is not the only place in the country where such regularisation takes place at intervals. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, indeed most other states, have enacted laws for regularisation of leasehold to freehold, as well as to regularise encroachments, especially where people have been occupying such land for decades. Like the new domicile rules, which too had to be amended after coming under fire from the BJP’s constituencies in Jammu, the flip flop on the Roshni Act threatens to undermine trust in the credibility of the decision-making process in J&K in a time of transition and change.