The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Saturday declared all the actions taken under the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 – also known as the Roshni Act – as “null and void”, The Hindu reported. The government said it would evict encroachers and retrieve all land distributed under the scheme within six months.
In 2001, Farooq Abdullah’s government enacted the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants Act. The law was to grant the ownership of state land to its occupants, for a fee determined by the government. The law’s stated aim was to generate funds for power projects, earning it the moniker, the Roshni Act.
It was repealed in 2018 after Governor Satya Pal Malik concluded that it had “not served” its purpose and was “no longer relevant in the present context”. This move was made after advocate Ankur Sharma, who had defended the accused in the Kathua rape case of January 2018, sought its repeal to “defeat the jihadi war in the form of demographic invasion of Jammu”.
In an order issued by the J&K Department of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, the government on Saturday said it found it necessary to nullify the act in order to implement the judgement passed by the High Court on the matter.
“The J&K government has decided to implement the High Court order, where it declared the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, as amended from time to time as unconstitutional, contrary to law and unsustainable,” an official spokesperson said, according to The Indian Express.
On October 12, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation-led probe into alleged irregularities in the land scheme, and directed the agency to file a status report every eight weeks.
Saturday’s order added that the complete identities of all influential persons, including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, businessmen – and their relatives or persons holding benami for them, who have derived benefit under the Act – will be made public. “The action shall be completed within a period of one month,” it said.
Benami, or property without name, is the kind of transaction where the person who pays for the property does not buy it under their own name.
The principal secretary of the revenue department has been asked to pass an order declaring all actions taken under the Act, as amended from time to time, and rules made thereunder, as void. He would also be in charge of working out modalities for handling the money received for these lands after annulment, the government said.
“He [the officer] shall ensure that all the mutations done in furtherance of the Roshni Act are annulled,” the order said. “He shall also work out a plan to retrieve the large tracts of State land vested under the Act, 2001 in a time bound manner. He shall also work out the modalities and plan to evict encroachers from such State land and retrieve it within a period of six months.”
When the Roshni Act was passed, the government had estimated that 20,64,972 kanal, or 1,04,458 hectares, of public land, worth around Rs 25,448 crore, lay encroached. The law was modified under successive governments, but allegations of corruption and nepotism in the allotment of land perpetually dogged the scheme.
In 2014, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India noted irregularities in the transfer of encroached land to its occupants. The report said the scheme had failed to meet its objectives: as against the target of Rs 25,448 crore, the government had generated only Rs 76 crore through the programme between 2007 and 2013.