Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government has cancelled all land transfers that took place under the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 — also known as the Roshni Act — under which 20 lakh kanals or 2.5 lakh acres of land was to be transferred to the existing occupants.
The government order, Saturday, was taken by implementing the J&K High Court’s 9 October ruling which declared the Roshni Act as unconstitutional, contrary to law and unsustainable.
The principal secretary and revenue department has been asked to work out a plan to retrieve large tracts of state land vested under the Act. According to the high court order, a total of 6,04,602 kanals (75,575 acres) of state land had been regularised and transferred to the occupants. This included 5,71,210 kanals (71,401 acres) in Jammu and 33,392 kanals (4174 acres) in the Kashmir province.
“Principal Secretary to Government, Revenue Department shall also work out the modalities and plan to evict encroachers from such State Land and retrieve the State land within a period of six months. Principal Secretary to Government, Revenue Department shall work out modalities for handling the money received for these lands after annulment,” the J&K government said in a statement Saturday.
According to the order, complete identities of influential persons, including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, businessmen etc, 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.
What is the Roshni Act
The Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 or the Roshni Act was enacted by the Farooq Abdullah government in 2001.
Under the Act, state land that had been encroached upon has to be regularised or legally transferred to the occupants against payment at market rates. The Act had set 1990 as the cut-off year for encroachment on state land.
The idea was to raise Rs 25,000 crore to build infrastructure for electricity. Hence, it was also called the Roshni Act.
In 2014, however, the Comptroller and Auditor General had estimated that only Rs 76 crore had been raised from the transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013.
Speaking to ThePrint, Jammu-based advocate Shakeel Ahmed said he had filed a PIL through one S.K. Bhalla at the high court in 2011, seeking retrieval of large tracts of land that were occupied by some influential people of J&K, including bureaucrats, politicians and police officers.
“We did not want to target the poor but the rich who had used power to occupy state land. Most of them bought the land at throwaway prices and not market rates,” Ahmed said.
While there were chunks of state land that had been occupied by some for nearly 200 years, he said, encroachment had increased in the last two decades.
“Take for instance the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities who have been staying on those lands for 100 or 200 years. Land in J&K was open those days and anyone could just stay anywhere. But things have been channelised since then and still land was being encroached, upon,” Ahmed said.
In 2013-2014, the high court directed the J&K administration to identify the total state land that had been transferred under the Roshni Act.
Former J&K governor Satya Pal Malik had repealed the Roshni Act in 2018, which meant that only the pending applications seeking ownership rights to state lands were to be cancelled and cases where property rights had already been transferred would hold. But the high court’s 9 October order had changed that.
“The good thing is that not all of the land has been transferred. We will be working round the clock to retrieve the land that has been transferred. The modalities are being worked out,” a senior government official said.
The decision is likely to create ripples through the political, bureaucratic and police circles in J&K that have often been accused of benefitting from the Act.