STATE TIMES NEWS
JAMMU: The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday adjourned till next week the hearing on a petition filed by the administration seeking a review of its earlier order scrapping the Roshni Act in totality.
The petition filed by Special Secretary in Revenue Department Nazir Ahmad Thakur on December 4 for modification of the nearly two-month-old judgment pleaded that a large number of common people would suffer unintentionally including landless cultivators and individuals who are themselves residing in dwellings on small areas.
It said there was a need to distinguish between the common people and the wealthy land grabbers among the beneficiaries, and favoured that landless labourers or those with one house in personal use be allowed to keep the allotted land.
The High Court has adjourned the case till December 16, Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad said.
Ahmad is representing Prof S K Bhalla who had challenged the Roshni Act in the court, which on October 9 finally declared the Act “illegal, unconstitutional and unsustainable” and ordered a CBI probe into the allotment of the land under this law.
In its petition filed three months after the judgment amid criticism over its role in not defending the Act in the court, the government which has started releasing separate lists of beneficiaries of Roshni Act and encroachers of government land said 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.
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, the petition read.
The petition prayed for permission to formulate an appropriate mechanism to enable people like landless cultivators and single dwelling owners to continue to remain in possession of their land, subject to an appropriate ceiling and on payment at appropriate rates.
It also raised apprehension that the High Court verdict may lead to an unintended roving inquiry by the CBI, which may go on endlessly without generating the results sought by the high court.
On November 1, the Union Territory administration cancelled all land transfers that took place under the JK State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 – also known as the Roshni Act – under which 2.5 lakh acres of land was to be transferred to the existing occupants.
The Principal Secretary and the Revenue Department have 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 JK government had said in a statement.
According to the order, 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.
The Roshni Act was enacted in 2001 with the twin objective of generating resources for financing power projects and conferment of proprietary rights to the occupants of the state land.
It initially envisaged conferment of proprietary rights of around 20.55 lakh kanals (102750 hectares) to the occupants of which only 15.85 percent land was approved for vesting of ownership rights.
The scheme was finally repealed by the then governor Satya Pal Malik on November 28, 2018.
Amid reports claiming its widespread misuse, the entire legislation was challenged before the high court which stayed the proceedings under the Act and also directed that neither the occupants having been conferred upon the ownership rights shall sell these lands nor can raise constructions on such lands.
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.
Earlier, the National Conference took a dig at the J&K administration over its alleged failure to defend the Roshni act and said thousands of citizens who were bonafide beneficiaries under the scheme are now virtually deprived of their homes and hearth for no fault of theirs.