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Friday, June 9, 2023

Why are Muftis and Abdullahs rattled by annulment of Roshni Act?

The Roshni Act was recently declared null and void by the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government after the J&K High Court (HC) passed an order stating that the Act was both unsustainable and unconstitutional. Annulling the Act, the state government is all set to recover all the lands sold under it within a period of six months and remove all encroachments.

Three weeks after the J&K HC order, the Principal Secretary has been instructed by the J&K government to ensure that all the lands are retrieved with six months and the encroachments are removed. The Roshni Act was nothing but just another attempt to legalize the illegal occupation of government land.

Passed in 2001, the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership) Act, popularly known as the Roshni Act was brought into effect with the intention of conferring propriety rights to those who had occupied state lands, although it was said that the government wanted to “generate resources to fund power projects”.

The order, which has been approved by the lieutenant governor, issued by the J&K department of law, justice and parliamentary affairs reads:

“It is hereby ordered that the principal secretary to the government, revenue department, shall pass an order declaring all actions taken under the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, as amended from time to time, and rules made thereunder as void ab-initio.”

In view of the illegality, the Principal Secretary of the revenue department has been instructed to not only retrieve the state lands in a time-bound manner but also to put in place systems to evict the encroachers and handle the money received after the annulment.

In the interest of transparency, details of the encroachers would be put up on the official website. District-wise details of the unauthorized occupation as of 1st January 2001 along with information regarding the identity of encroachers and particulars of the land will be available on the NIC website.

An important revelation made by the spokesperson of the Principal Secretary as reported by Hindustan Times shows how politicians and bureaucrats aggrandized themselves in the name of regularizing land encroachments under the Roshni Act, 2001 or Roshni Rules, 2007.

The spokesperson said, complete identities of all influential persons, including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, businessmen, their relatives or persons holding Benami for them, who have derived benefit under the Roshni Act, 2001, or Roshni Rules, 2007, will be revealed“.

This is possibly one of the reasons why the likes of Mehbooba Mufti and the Abdullahs are rattled by the annulment of the Act which was nothing but legalizing corruption and enriching themselves at the cost of the citizenry. It was under Farooq Abdullah that the National Conference decided to hand over illegally occupied government land to the encroachers in return for a fixed sum of money under the Roshni Act in 2001.

What had happened over the years in the state was that the influential had encroached upon valuable tracts of land while there were land grabs by the less privileged too. This was an attempt to skew the demographics of the state by favoring one community as the report by an independent organization Ikkut Jammu alleged that 90% beneficiaries of the Act were Muslims and politicians had legalized illegal encroachments by deliberately allocating lands to only one community.

It was on the basis of the petition filed by this organization that the J&K HC passed the ruling declaring the Act unconstitutional. In addition to the deliberate attempt by the Muftis, Abdullahs, and Gulam Nabi Azad who supposedly sold at a much lesser rate to Muslim beneficiaries to skew the demographics of the state, there is also the allegation of the Act not being scrapped even though it failed to generate the expected revenues. Surely there is more than what meets the eye when politicians favor a failed law.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of 2014 states that as against the projected Rs 25000 crores a paltry sum of Rs 76 crores was earned by way of the Roshni Act. The CAG report put the blame squarely on the politicians of the state and said that among several other irregularities, it also found that the prices had been arbitrarily reduced by the standing committee in order to favor politicians as well as other influential people.

The CAG report also pointed out the miscarriage of the Roshni Act by J&K politicians where certain areas of Jammu city saw a sudden surge in the Muslim population. Additionally, Rohingya Muslims were said to have settled in the Doda and Samba sectors of Jammu and in Ladakh as well posing a massive security threat as the central agencies had pieces of evidence showing illegal Rohingya Muslims having connections with Kashmiri terror groups.

The possibility of the change in demography in the Sunjwan area due to huge amounts of lands being given to Muslims under the Roshni Act leading to the 2018 terror attack on the Army camp is an angle that must be looked at.

If the National Conference under Farooq Abdullah brought this Act into being, the subsequent PDP and Congress governments under Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Gulam Nabi Azad are guilty of extending the cut-off dates there encouraging people to grab more land.

Now with the annulment of the Roshni Act, the J&K politicians who acted like the saviors of the J&K masses are at risk of being exposed not only for their large scale corruption but also for putting the state and country under the terrorist threat by blatant misuse of the law.

(Featured Image Source: Freepress Journal)

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