The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday adjourned a petition filed by the administration seeking a review of its decision to scrap the Roshni Act, evict encroachers on state-owned land and retrieve it within six months, reported PTI. The matter will be heard on December 16.
The petition, filed by Special Secretary in Revenue Department Nazir Ahmad Thakur on December 4, sought the modification of the nearly two-month-old judgment. Thakur pleaded that a large number of common people in the region, including landless cultivators and nomadic communities, would “suffer unintentionally” as they would be pushed to homelessness.
The plea implored the High Court to differentiate between the “common people” and “the wealthy land grabbers” of Jammu and Kashmir.
“The common people are unfortunately clubbed along with rich and wealthy land grabbers who have obtained a title over state land through the provision of now struck down Act,” it said. “There is a need to distinguish between these two classes of people; the fact of being either 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.”
Therefore, instead of scrapping the act completely, a mechanism should be formed that would allow landless labourers, or those who have one house in personal use, to keep the allotted land, the petition said. This allotment, it suggested, can be subject to an appropriate ceiling and on payment at appropriate rates.
The petition filed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration also raised apprehensions that the High Court verdict may lead to an “unintended roving inquiry” by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which “may go on endlessly without generating the results” sought by the court.
Enacted in 2001 by the Farooq Abdullah-led government, the Roshni Act had proposed to transfer ownership of state land to its occupants for a fee determined by the government. Money from these transfers was to fund power projects in Jammu and Kashmir – earning it the moniker, “Roshni Act”.
For years, transactions under the law have been plagued by allegations of corruption and challenged in court. According to popular opinion, land allocations under the act favoured political elites and powerful officials.
However, several allocations were also made to poor families who had occupied state land for years. This is especially true of the largely Muslim nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal communities, who have historically been poor and landless.
On October 9, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court pronounced the Roshni Act “completely unconstitutional, contrary to law and unsustainable”. All transactions enabled by the law were held suspect. The court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into what it termed a “land scam” worth Rs 25,000 crore – the total amount of money made from transactions under the act.
Weeks after the judgment, the Jammu and Kashmir government declared the law null and void and announced it would start retrieving state land transferred to Roshni beneficiaries in a “time bound manner.” The government also issued notices to alleged encroachers of state land, the details of which are published on the divisional commissioners’ websites.
An order passed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration on November 1, said the complete identities of influential persons, including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers and businessmen, their relatives or persons holding benami for them, who have derived benefit under the Roshni Act, will be made public within a period of one month.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his sister Suraiya Matto are among the names mentioned by the administration in its second list of beneficiaries of the Roshni Act.