The Hindu Explains | Why does the J&K government want the High Court to reconsider its ruling on Roshni Act?

Who approached the court against the Roshni Act, and what did it observe? Why was the Comptroller and Auditor General unhappy with the Act?

The story so far: On December 4, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government filed a petition in the High Court, asking it to reconsider its October ruling on the Roshni Act. The court had declared it “unconstitutional” and the State government deemed all actions taken under the Act, originally called the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership Rights to the Occupants) Act, 2001, “null and void”. Under the Act, all occupants of State land — lease, farm or non-lease land — could apply for regularisation if it was with the occupant up to 1990. After the HC order, the government said it would retrieve land from occupants within six months.

Why is a two decades-old law under the scanner?

Enacted in 2001 during Farooq Abdullah’s regime, the Roshni Act was an ambitious project to meet J&K’s — then a State — chronic power crisis and raise funds to set up hydroelectricity projects to generate extra power. There was a notional calculation on the part of the government that regularising 20 lakh kanals (equivalent of 2.5 lakh acres) of State land under occupation of locals would help it raise ₹25,000 crore, to provide a stimulus to the ailing and debt-ridden power sector. The condition for regularisation made by the government was that the property owner had to pay according to market prices.

Also read | Roshni scam, a tale of full-fledged cover-up

What were the subsequent amendments made to the Roshni Act?

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was Chief Minister of J&K in 2005, effected a number of amendments to the Act. It extended the cut-off date from 1990 to 2004, which was later extended till 2007. According to the fresh amendments, further relaxation was granted to occupants on the market prices fixed earlier in 2001.

Why was the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) unhappy with the Act?

The CAG tabled a report before the J&K assembly in 2014 and pointed out irregularities. It said that land transfers under the Act between 2007 and 2013 were able to raise only ₹76 crore against the value of the land pegged at ₹317 crore. The period saw ownership rights granted for 33,000 kanals in the Kashmir valley and 3,14,000 kanals in Jammu. The CAG reported that the beneficiaries in Kashmir paid ₹54 crore against the targeted ₹123 crore, and in Jammu, they paid ₹22 crore against the targeted ₹194 crore. The CAG described the Act as a “₹25,000 crore fraud”.

Who approached the court against the Act and what did it observe?

A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by a Jammu-based activist S.K. Bhalla in 2011, alleging that politicians, bureaucrats and revenue officers were hand in glove in committing fraud under the Act. In 2014, after the CAG report, Jammu-based advocate Ankur Sharma filed another petition and demanded that the Act be declared “unconstitutional”. In 2018, then governor Satya Pal Malik, as head of the State Administrative Council without any legislature, repealed the Act, saying it failed to meet its objectives.

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A Division Bench of J&K High Court, comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal, declared the Act “unconstitutional” in October 2020. Acting on the HC observations, the J&K government on October 31 declared all the actions taken under the Act “null and void”.

Why has the J&K government filed a review petition?

The J&K government, which had initially decided against filing any review in the case before the court, finally filed a review petition on December 4, saying “a large number of common people would suffer”. Landless cultivators and individuals have been clubbed along with rich and wealthy land grabbers, who have obtained a title over State land through the provisions of the Act, it said.

Roshni Act | No immediate ‘coercive action’ against petitioners, says J&K in Supreme Court

Many politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen were named prior to the District Development Council polls in the Union Territory. However, it turned out that most of the beneficiaries were farmers and small landholders.

This story is available exclusively to The Hindu subscribers only.

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