J&K govt declares actions under Roshni Act 'null and void'; what you need to know

The Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday declared the actions taken under the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 or 'Roshni Act', as null and void.

The Act, which was repealed in 2018 by then lieutenant governor Satya Pal Malik, was implemented with the aim of boosting the farming sector and "generating substantial revenue" for funding power projects.

However, the government on Saturday stated that the Act had "failed to realise the desired objectives and there were also reports of misuse of some its provisions" due to allegations of corruption and an alleged failure to deliver the benefits it had been envisaged for.

The government's decision comes three weeks after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court labelled the law unconstitutional and ordered a CBI probe into an alleged scam in the Roshni land scheme.

Taking note of the order, the government on Saturday said, "The J&K administration has decided to implement the high court order in which 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 order issued by the Jammu and Kashmir Department of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, with the approval of the LG, stated, "Now, therefore, 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 there under as void ab-initio."

What is the Roshni Act?

The land-related law, popularly known as the Roshni Act, was brought into force by the Farooq Adbullah government in 2001. The law aimed to grant ownership rights of public land to occupants. Reportedly, 15.85 percent of the occupied land was approved for transfer of ownership rights.

The Act also sought the conferment of proprietary rights of around 20.55 lakh kanals of land (1,2,50 hectares) to the occupants. Additionally, legislators hoped the Act would help generate resources to finance power projects. Farmers who had been occupying State land were also given ownership rights for agricultural use.

The law initially set 1990 as the cut-off year for encroachment on State land, based on which ownership would be granted. Subsequent governments under Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad relaxed the deadline first to 2004 and then to 2007.

The state government had estimated an earning of Rs 25,000 crore from the 20 lakh kanals of land and had said that the fund would be used to set up hydroelectric electricity-generation projects, as per Indian Express.

But in 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that only Rs 76 crore had been received from the exercise of transferring encroached land in a period of six years between 2007 and 2013.

As a result, the Act was found to have fallen short of its purpose and was repealed by former Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik on 28 November, 2018.

What is the controversy?

The Roshni Act, declared "unconstitutional" by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on 9 October, fell prey to corruption over the course of the last decade.

The CAG report pointed to irregularities in the implementation of the Act as the cause of its failure to generate the expected revenue. The report listed irregularities such as "arbitrary" reduction in prices of the land and said that the reduction was aimed to benefit politicians and other affluent people.

In the past, politicians, businessmen, and bureaucrats have been accused of misusing the Act by transferring public land under their name and that of their family members.

In 2009, the Jammu and Kashmir vigilance organisation registered an FIR against public officials for "alleged criminal conspiracy to illegally possess and vest ownership of state land to occupants who didn't satisfy the criteria under the Roshni Act", Indian Express reported.

While the then bureaucracy called the Vigilance Organisation's findings "motivated", "the Vigilance Organisation completed investigations in five cases by March 2015, and indicted nearly two dozen officials, including three former deputy commissioners for allegedly misusing the provisions of the scheme," the report added.

The latest developments

A government spokesperson on Saturday said the administration will ensure that all the mutations done in furtherance of the Act are annulled.  The principal secretary will also work out a plan to retrieve the large tracts of state land vested under the Act in a time-bound manner.

He said the secretary will also work out the modalities and a plan to evict encroachers from such state land and retrieve it within six months.

The secretary will also ensure that information regarding district-wise state land, as on 1 January, is compiled and posted on official websites with details of land that has been encroached, he said.

"The details of the applications received under the Act, the valuation of land, amounts paid by the beneficiary, the orders passed under the act, and the persons in whose favour the vesting was done and also... further transfers, if any, recognised and accepted by the authorities" should be posted on the websites, the spokesman said.

The details should also include "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 Act or occupy state lands", he said.

The action will be completed within a period of one month, the spokesman said.

With inputs from agencies

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