Hope that Lt Governor GC Murmu would succeed in retrieving the state and forest land and take action against those who looted the state
Lt Governor Girish Chandra Murmu has set-in-motion the process aimed at tackling land mafia and retrieving state and forest land. His administration has set a deadline of July 31 to complete the survey and digitization of land records across the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Significantly, the decision was taken on July 01 after the administration came to know that “illegal entries of encroached about nine lakh Kanal state and forest land in the Jammu region by the land mafia have been officially deleted, and the land restored to the government only on papers.”
Indeed, a startling revelation that showed how powerful and well-entrenched were, and are, who encroached the state and forest lands in Jammu province? What was more startling was the revelation that not 24 lakh, but “21 lakh acres of state and forest land have encroached in Jammu & Kashmir by the land mafia in league with revenue officials over the past several decades, taking advantage of several orders of the earlier governments.” One acre of land is equal to 43,560 sq feet. It means millions and millions of sq feet of state and forest land illegally occupied by the land mafia consisting of persons within and outside the establishment, politicians, and others.
The controversial Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (vesting of ownership to the occupants) Act, also called the Roshni Act, was passed by the Farooq Abdullah Government in 2001.
Even far more dumbfounding was the revelation that the powers-that-be in the Revenue Department mutated land in favour of persons who were not even born. It would be only prudent to refer to here verbatim reports in this regard based on official inputs. These read like this: “The laws and acts were used to usurp the government lands in a planned way, including under the 2001 Roshni Act. Those who had state land under their cultivation in Kharif 1958 AD were given tenancy rights of such state land vide government notification LB-6. Subsequently, vide S-432 notification, such tenants of the state agricultural land were given proprietary rights, but without the right to alienate such land. In districts of Poonch, Rajouri and Doda in Jammu province as well as in other districts, a major scam has happened wherein some corrupt revenue officers have mutated land in favour of those under notification of S-432 who were even not born in 1958. A huge chunk of state land has been illegally mutated under notification S-432 in favour of undeserving people. In 1970, when agrarian reforms were introduced vide J&K Agrarian Reforms Act, the then Congress government had put a ban on LB-6 and mutations under S-432. But when Ghulam Nabi Azad became the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir in November 2005, he deliberately removed this ban on S-432 to encourage the illegal transfer of state land to occupants born after 1958.”
It needs to be underlined that the Revenue Department has already “missed three deadlines – February 2018, March 2019 and June 2019 – for completion of the digitization of land records in the twin capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar in phase 1.” The digitization process was started by the Revenue Department way back in 2015 through its land records management agency, a nodal agency of the department. The official data presented by the then PDP-BJP coalition government in the erstwhile J&K Assembly regarding digitization revealed that “against the target of scanning 666.49 lakh revenue documents, only 164.61 lakh revenue documents had been scanned till December 2017.” These included “105.84 lakh documents in Jammu” and “58.77 lakh in Kashmir.”
The controversial Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (vesting of ownership to the occupants) Act, also called the Roshni Act, was passed by the Farooq Abdullah Government in 2001. The Act envisaged the “transfer of ownership rights of the state land to its occupants, subject to the payment of a cost, as determined by the government.” It set 1990 as the cutoff for encroachment on the state land. The stated objective of the scheme was to “raise a sum of Rs 25,000 crore by transferring 20 lakh Kanals of the state land to the existing occupants against payment at a market rate.” The government said that “the revenue generated would be spent on commissioning hydroelectric power projects.” Hence, the name “Roshni” (light). Those who succeeded Farooq Abdullah, including Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti, didn’t repeal it. As a matter of fact, Mufti Sayeed-led PDP-Congress coalition government amended the Roshni Act in 2005 and relaxed the cutoff year to 2004. During the time of Ghulam Nabi Azad, who succeeded Mufti Sayeed in November 2005, the cutoff was further relaxed to 2007. Not just this, his government also “gave ownership rights of agricultural land to the illegal occupants free of cost.” The government charged only “Rs 100 per Kanal as a documentation fee.”
The Roshni Act was finally repealed by Governor Satya Pal Malik on November 28, 2018. Making the decision public, the official spokesperson, inter-alia, said: “All pending proceedings under the Roshni Act shall stand canceled immediately and abate. The State Administrative Council directed that any action taken under the provisions of the repealed Act shall not be valid.” The credit for the repeal of the Roshni Act goes to Ikkjutt Jammu, which had challenged the Act in the J&K High Court, saying the “Roshni Act was a tool being used by the ruling elite and those close to it to change the Hindu-majority character of Jammu province” – a fact which was appreciated by the government in its statement on the repeal of this Act.
The entire legislation was challenged before the High Court by the Chairman of Ikkjutt Jammu, Ankur Sharma, in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
In between, in 2014, a report by the CAG estimated that “against the targeted Rs 25,000 crore, only Rs 76 crore had been realized between 2007 and 2013, thus defeating the very purpose of the legislation.” The report blamed “irregularities, including an arbitrary reduction in prices fixed by a standing committee,” and said that “this was done to benefit politicians and affluent people.” The CAG termed the Roshni scheme as the “biggest-ever land scam in J&K.” So much so, the Principal Accountant General (Audit) sent a copy of these findings to the State Vigilance Organization for “investigation”. Instead of taking action, the Congress Revenue Minister, Ajaz Ahmad Khan, termed the findings “motivated”. As for the Vigilance Organization, “it had completed investigations in five cases and indicted nearly two dozen officials, including three former Deputy Commissioners, for misusing the provisions of the Roshni Act.” It had sought sanction to prosecute the accused, but with no result. In the meantime, the entire legislation was challenged before the High Court by the Chairman of Ikkjutt Jammu, Ankur Sharma, in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). In November 2018, the High Court restrained “all beneficiaries of the Roshni scheme from selling or carrying out any other transaction in respect of the land transferred to them.” The case is yet to be decided as the concerned authorities have failed to produce before the High Court the “full record”.
One can only hope and pray that Lt Governor GC Murmu would succeed in retrieving the state and forest land and take action against those who looted the state’s invaluable state and forest land and changed Jammu’s demography. His administration has to extend unstinted support to the J&K High Court. It is also hoped that HM Amit Shah would also intervene to defeat the ongoing Zameen Jihad in Jammu.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.