The administration of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has made public the list of influential people, including politicians, who got the government land under the now-scrapped Roshni land scheme.
The revelation has kicked up a political row with senior BJP leaders including Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad calling it a “conscious loot’ by powerful people demanding a thorough probe into the alleged scam.
The developments come ahead of the crucial election to the District Development Councils, first polls beginning November 28 in the erstwhile state since the abrogation of Article 370.
The Act and the amendments
In 2001, the National Conference (NC) government led by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah enacted the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, also known as the Roshni Act, to regularise the unauthorised land. The NC was then part of the BJP-led NDA at the Centre. Farooq’s son Omar Abdullah was a minister in the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government.
The government then said that the Act would enable it to collect fees to a tune of Rs 25,000 crore which would be used to upgrade electricity generation in J&K and hence the name ‘Roshni’ which means electricity or light in Urdu-Hindi.
The NC government had set 1990 as the cut-off year for the scheme. However, in 2005, the then PDP-Congress government led by chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed amended the cut-off year to 2004. Later, CM Ghulam Nabi Azad government further relaxed the cut-off date to 2007.
The investigations into land transfers found that the land in Gulmarg, the hill station in the north of Kashmir, has been allotted to ineligible beneficiaries. An FIR was lodged in 2009 by the State Vigilance Organisation against government officials for alleged criminal conspiracy. A 2014 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report revealed that not more than Rs 76 crore were generated as revenue from the transfer of land between 2007 and 2013, as against the target of Rs 25,000 crore.
In 2015, the Vigilance Organisation indicted over 20 officials, including three former deputy commissioners, for their involvement in misusing the provisions in the scheme.
In November 2018, the J&K High Court restrained beneficiaries of the scheme from carrying out any transaction. In the same year, J&K governor Satyapal Malik repealed the Roshni Act and ordered a CBI probe into the scam.
On October 9 this year, the High Court held the Roshni Act as ‘unconstitutional’. The court also directed the Union Territory government to make public names of those who grabbed the land under the scheme. On November 1, the J&K government issued an order cancelling all land transfers that took place under the Roshni Act.
On November 23, the Union Territory government began publishing the names of beneficiaries on its websites. The first set of names included prominent politicians, hotels, and a trust connected each to the National Conference and the Congress. Among politicians, former J&K finance minister Haseeb Drabu is also on the list, with his family members. National Conference’s Nawai Subah Trust and the Congress’s Khidmat Trust were also on the list of beneficiaries in the scheme
On November 24, the Union Territory administration released another list in which former CM Farooq Abdullah and his son, Omar Abdullah, also a former CM, were named for allegedly possessing state land, a charge denied by both. The list is however different from lists released by the administration since November 23 naming people who allegedly benefited from the now-scrapped Roshni Act.
Farooq Abdullah’s sister was, however, among the 130 people named in the second list of beneficiaries of the Roshni Act.
What next?The UT government has said it will retrieve the land transferred under the Act within six months. The Print said in an earlier report that the principal secretary and 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.