Roshni Land Scam: After waving ‘Tainted List,’ J&K seeks HC Review

    In a turn of events, the J&K administration sought changes to the judgement passed on 9th October by the High Court, which ruled the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act, 2001, also referred to as the Roshni Act, of 2001 null and void in the Union Territory (UT) and ordered the authorities to put an end to the ownership rights of government land occupants, days after making public names of prominent politicians of opposition parties occupying state land.
    The High Court’s revocation of the Act placed the spotlight on influential politicians who received help from its provisions. But there were thousands of ordinary citizens who, under the same act, could also pass land ownership. It also affected landless cultivators and individuals when seeking to castigate mainstream politicians.
    The ‘Land Scam’
    • The Roshni Act passed in 2001, suggested assigning possession of state land to its inhabitants for a government-determined fee. The money from these transfers was to finance Jammu and Kashmir power projects.
    • Transactions under the statute have been dogged for years by graft allegations and challenged in court. Land allocations under the act, as alleged, benefited political leaders and influential authorities, according to public opinion. Several grants were however, often made to poor families who for years had occupied state land.
    • In October, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir ruled the Act “completely unconstitutional, unlawful and unsustainable.” All transactions allowed by the law were deemed suspicious. The court ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into what it called a “land scam” worth Rs 25,000 crore, the cumulative amount of money made under the Act from transactions.
    • The High Court directed the government to ensure the annulment of the transformation of property under the Act and to work out methods to evict and evacuate invaders within six months from the state land.
    • The government listed senior officials, bureaucrats and businessmen as “illegal occupants” of property, including leasing land, in a series of lists made public, under the order of the court, and provided them with notices of eviction.
    Review Petition Filed by J&K Government
    • The J&K government pleaded for “modification of the judgement” in a review petition filed on December 4 by Nazir Ahmad Thakur, Special Secretary, Revenue Department.
    • The petition suggested that a large number of ordinary people would inevitably suffer.
    • It ought to differentiate between “landless cultivators and individuals living in small-area” and “rich and wealthy landowners” who have gained title to state land by virtue of the provisions of the Act that has now been repealed.
    • The petition also asked for time to allow the government to set an acceptable ceiling and a rate so that the land remains in the hands of the common people adding that there will be no relief above these ceilings for intruders.
    • The plea claimed that the purpose of the court was to show some mala fide in the manner framed by the Roshni Act and its Laws, as well as to identify the rich and powerful people who abused the mechanism to gain benefits under the Roshni Act or invaded public property.
    The decision of the government has attracted strong criticism from various sources, including from those who have questioned the Roshni Act.
    • Advocate Sheikh Shakeel, Professor S K Bhalla’s lawyer, who had originally filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) against the Roshni Act, said this reflected the realization that only the interests of the BJP would be affected by the enforcement of the High Court orders.
    • In Jammu, Muslims were vested with ownership rights to only 1,180 kanals of the 44,000 kanals of state land regularized under Roshni Act, he said.