A view of a deserted street during a curfew in Srinagar on July 10, 2016 | Representational image
A view of a deserted street during a curfew in Srinagar on July 10, 2016 | Representational image
Photo: AFP

On Sunday, it was announced that the Jammu and Kashmir Government will annul all actions taken under the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 and retrieve retrieve land within six months.

The act, also known as the Roshni Act, pertains to land ownership in the Union Territory by illegal encroachers and had come into effect in 2002.

What is the Roshni Act?

Simply put, the Roshni Act is a scheme that envisages the generation of revenue by by allotment of ownership rights on illegal encroachers of state land to generate hydro electric power in J&K. Enacted by the then state government in November 2001, it came into effect in March 2002.

Over 21,000 kanals of land (one acre is equal to 8 kanals) were transferred into the ownership of such illegal encroachers at discounts ranging up to 80 per cent of the market rate.

Was it successful?

However, while the targeted aim was to realise around Rs 25,000 crore from the transfer of land into private ownership, this did not happen. Many of the beneficiaries were politically affiliated, and from the powerful and influential members of local society. A CAG report also estimated that only Rs 76 crore had been realised from the project.

The beneficiary list includes politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats including the then finance minister, Haseeb Drabu, and his brother. It also includes prominent businessmen Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya, who is known to have wielded influence in different state governments from time to time, and Mohd Shafi Pandit, former senior bureaucrat who finally headed the J&K Public Service Commission. Other top retired bureaucrats such as Khurshid Ahmad Ganai and Tanveer Jahan are also reportedly beneficiaries under the Act.

Not only individuals, political parties too appear to have benefited from the Act. The party headquarters of the regional National Conference at the 'Nawa-e-Subha' complex in Srinagar was constructed on state land after transferring its ownership to the trustees, and the Congress party owns one of the costliest pieces of real estate in the heart of Srinagar city under the name of the 'Khidmat Trust' whose ownership was transferred to the trustee under the Act. The National Conference headquarters, "Sher-e-Kashmir Bhawan' in Jammu city also exists on state land transferred through controversial allotment made under the Roshni Act.

What are the recent legal developments?

At the beginning of October, a landmark judgement by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court saw the Act be declared "unconstitutional". The division bench of the high court has ordered a CBI probe into the Roshni Act after transferring the investigations from the J&K anti-corruption bureau (ACB). The high court has said that all allotments made under the Act are void 'ab initio'. The high court has decided to monitor the CBI investigation which has been directed to file the status report within 8 weeks.

The news update today is a follow-up on this order, and states that all actions taken under the Act will be annulled.

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Free Press Journal