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Roshni Act and the Land Jihad in Jammu: An Untold Story

The change in the demography of the region was clearly visible by the fact that in the year 1994 there were only three mosques in the Jammu city whereas the number grew to 100+ in the subsequent years.

Roshni Act also known as the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 was enacted by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir in the year 2001, the main aim of such formation of the act on paper was to earn a rather significant amount of money i.e. over Rs 25,000 Crore by the commissioning of hydroelectric power projects in the state and this was the reason why it was named as “Roshni Act”.

As per the provisions of the Roshni Act, the idea was to transfer the state land as well as its ownership rights of around 20.55 lakh kanals (1 acre= 8 kanals) to those who were at the time occupying it in return for a cost set by the government.

There were many amendments made to the act for encroaching the state land and prepare the system for the Land-Jihad. Subsequently, the cutoff dates were changed an ungodly number of times, first, it was set to happen in 1990 by the Farooq Abdullah government, later extended to 2004 by the PDP-Congress government led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

It was during the tenure of Ghulam Nabi Azad that the cut-off was further extended to the year 2007 which practically meant that the land was open for unabashed encroachment till the year 2007 and all the big-wigs of the state, which included some senior politicians, as well as bureaucrats, had, until the said time, encroached upon these state-owned lands, at dirt-cheap rates.

Later, an amendment was made to the Act by the government and the ownership rights of agricultural lands were given to the farmers for free, who was at that time occupying it, and they were charged only for the documentation fees which was limited to Rs. 100/kanal.

This was a well-knit plan which was launched across the border in an attempt to change the demography of the Jammu region and this process was going on under the nose of the authorities in the state for the last 17 years, to accommodate people from Muslim communities in the Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu by legalizing the illegal occupants of the land and making them the real owner. The reason why such activities were peculiar, can be traced back to the fact that the law under which such legalizations were made, has itself been declared unconstitutional. 

According to the Census Reports of 2001, the Hindu Population in Jammu was 65% whereas the Muslim Population was 31% however at the time of the Census that was conducted in 2011, the Muslim Population in the Region saw an increase by 3% whereas Hindu Population declined by 3% in the region, the reason for the same is clearly visible.

The change in the demography of the region was clearly visible by the fact that in the year 1994 there were only three mosques in the Jammu city whereas the number grew to 100+ in the subsequent years. There are more than 25000 illegal beneficiaries of the Roshni Act in the Jammu region 90% of which belongs to the Muslim Community whereas only 4500 beneficiaries are there in the Kashmir region.  

It was in the year 2009 that the State Vigilance Organization found irregularities in the transferring of ownership rights as well as allotment of lands to beneficiaries who did not satisfy the criteria for the same. Numerous government officials were booked under the same but the matter did not come into limelight at the time of its happening.

It was in the year 2014 that a report was submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) which revealed that, instead of earning an estimated revenue of Rs.25000 crore, the government earned only an amount of Rs 76 Crore between the years 2007 and 2013 which simply shows that it was a policy which was meant to make money, as well as change the demography to spread Anti-National ideas and the greater Islamic agenda in the state.

The report mentioned the irregularities as well as the malpractices which were undertaken by the then officials occupying higher positions, the prices were deliberately reduced by a standing committee so as to benefit the big-wigs of the state who will use the same to spread their Islamo-Fascist agenda in the state.

The main beneficiaries under the Act were the sister concerns of the State Political parties i.e. Nawai Subah Trust of the National Conference and Khidmat Trust of the Congress. Lands at prominent locations were transferred to both of these institutions and the rate set by the statutory committee was between Rs 1.10 crore/Kanal to Rs. 1.20 crore/Kanal which was having a market value of more than Rs. 13 Crore, which means that a rebate of 85% was given to the institutions having links with two of the biggest political parties of the state.

This report made by the CAG was sent to the office of the Revenue department of the state and the State Revenue Minister Aijaz Ahmad Khan in the very first instance termed the findings to be “motivated”. A PIL was filled by Prof. S.K Bhalla in the year 2011 through advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed which was aimed at highlighting the instances of land grabbing and encroaching of the state land. The State Government despite many orders delivered by the Court did not provide the list containing the names of the beneficiaries and the details under which the state-owned lands were legalized and transferred to their name.

Moreover, the State Vigilance Organization, which was tasked by the government for investigating the case was not working diligently and the advocate arguing the PIL, vocally argued many times that the officials of the State Vigilance Organization who were investigating the matter were deleting the names of Senior IAS/KAS Officers involved in the scam from the investigation report and including only the lower rank officers like Tehsildars, Patwaris, etc.

The investigation was completed by the SVO in the year 2015 under five different cases clubbed together which caught hold of more than 25 government officials, which included three former deputy commissioners too. Jammu based advocate and social activist Ankur Sharma, founder of IkkJutt Jammu filed a PIL in the Court seeking transfer of the case from ACB to CBI.

The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018 restrained the beneficiaries of the Roshni Act from carrying any transaction related to the ownership of land transferred to them through the scheme. The State Administrative Council which was led by the then Governor of the state Satya Pal Malik negated the Roshni Act and cancelled all the pending applications for the same by saying that it did not serve the purpose for which it was made and hence there is no point of having such legislation in the present time which is no longer relevant.

This was a major step for defeating the Jihadi war which was about to commence in the Jammu region in the form of demographic invasion as the illegal occupants had raised multi-story complexes, palatial buildings, luxurious homes on the state land which was allotted to them at very less amount.

Jammu Kashmir Law Commission under the aegis of its chairman Justice (Retd.) M.K Hanjura submitted a detailed 53-page report which revealed shocking results on the Roshni Act. The Commission termed the Act as a “typical example of the fences swallowing the crop. These are covered in dust from top to toe. The state has gone against the grain in legislating the Act and in framing the rules. It prepared the chicken feed for itself and the bees sowed the wild oats. It has blessed its flowers and the weeds. Such legislation where a huge chunk of land comprising thousands of kanals in which the public, in general, had an interest has been conveniently allowed to be transferred to the trespassers and the encroachers by a blatant misuse of the public trust and power cannot find a place in any nook and corner of the Indian State” (Ref: JK Law Commission Report, March 2020)

The Report mentioned that the lands have been transferred to those who weren’t in true possession of the land because their name was not present in the Girdwari made by the Patwaris and the Girdwars and almost all of the Sections under the Act were violated by the government officials. Under Section 6, it was mentioned that lands under the vicinity of highways were only to be given under lease but instances are there where the lands have been transferred illegally to the occupants. It was recommended by the Committee to retrieve the land which was illegally occupied by the illegal beneficiaries of the act.

The Division Bench of Hon’ble High Court of Jammu and Kashmir under Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal, on 10th October 2020 declared the Act as unconstitutional and held that all the allotments which were made in the past were to be termed as void-ab-initio, Moreover, it approved the case to be transferred from ACB to CBI. The Court ordered the CBI to file a status report of the same with eight weeks and directed the Chief Secretary, Divisional Commissioners as well as the Deputy Commissioners to cooperate in the investigation process and if they fail to do so, they will be held liable for contempt of court. 

This step is a major breakthrough in this controversial conundrum and there is a great probability that many more influential names shall come out in the public domain once the investigations start. The benefit of this legislation was laundered by those wealthy few, who had strong connections in the political arena and later on, used the same to increase their estates.

The main question which arises is that why most of the land allotted under the act was given to members of only one community, this clearly shows the agendas of the then government of the state who was working under the guidance being given across the borders, this was a type of physical assault on the people of Jammu region. As termed by the Law Commission in its report, the Act was termed as a “Policy of loot and scoot” which is very much true.

The whole population of the Jammu Region is jubilated by the virtue of this order because the same was pending for the decades now, and during that time, nefarious entities earned huge amounts of money from the state-owned lands. This was a proverbial time bomb in the Jammu Region because the region is now surrounded by the people belonging to Muslim Community on all the four sides and if the act would not have been held unconstitutional by the court, the situation could have worsening effects. All thanks to the Judiciary which retained the faith of people and declared the act as unconstitutional and saved the lives of many people of the state who could be in the future be made the victim of the planned conversions.

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Searched termsJ&K High Court
Mridull Thaploo
Mridull Thaploo
Mridull Thaploo is a second-year student of Law studying at National Law University, Punjab.

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