Explainer: What’s the controversial Roshni Act all about and why has J&K HC ordered a CBI probe into it?

Rahul M
·8 min read
The beautiful city of Srinagar. Image used for representational purpose only. Photo: Getty Images
The beautiful city of Srinagar. Image used for representational purpose only. Photo: Getty Images

Ordering a CBI probe into the Roshni land scam case, the Jammu & Kashmir High Court on October 9 declared the controversial Roshni Act ‘illegal and unconstitutional’. All land allotments and ownerships under the Act have been deemed to be void right from its inception.

The Roshni case has been called the biggest ever land scam in the history of Jammu and Kashmir and has allegedly caused a loss of Rs 25,000 crore to the J&K treasury.

Instances of top politicians and bureaucrats cornering prime, high-value properties in J&K by misusing the law have come to light where land was given away at just 20% of market rate.

The division Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal also asked the CBI to file a status report in the case every eight weeks.

What is the Roshni Act?

Simply put, the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, commonly known as the Roshni scheme, proposed that the ownership rights of state land could be transferred to illegal encroachers upon the payment of a sum to be determined by the Jammu & Kashmir government. Under the scheme, encroached state lands were legalised by the previous Jammu and Kashmir administrations.

The controversial law was enacted by the then J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s government in 2001 and it set 1990 as the cutoff for encroachment on state land.

The government said that the funds thus raised would be used to finance power projects in the State: thus the name ‘Roshni’ (light). The Act came into effect in March 2002.

The J&K government’s idea was to generate Rs 25,000 crore by transferring almost 21 lakh kanals of state land to illegal occupants. One acre is equal to 8 kanals.

In 2005, when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP-Congress was in power in the state, the government relaxed the cut-off year to 2004. Later, when Ghulam Nabi Azad replaced Mufti as J&K chief minister, the cutoff was further relaxed to 2007.

During that time, the J&K government also gave ownership of agricultural land to farmers occupying it for free: they were charged only Rs 100 per kanal as ‘documentation fee’.

Who are the beneficiaries?

IANS has reported that the beneficiary list of the controversial Roshni Act reads ‘like a who's who of the powerful and influential among the local society’.

The list of beneficiaries, says IANS, includes Haseeb Drabu, the then finance minister in the Mufti Muhammed Sayeed-led state government, and his brother.

According to IANS, the list also includes Mehboob Beg (son of Mirza Afzal Beg, a close associate of late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah), influential businessmen like Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya and Krishen Amla (who is close to the top leaders of the Congress party) and former top bureaucrats such as Khurshid Ahmad Ganai and Tanveer Jahan.

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, reported IANS.

The National Conference headquarters in Srinagar and Jammu city too have been built on state land transferred through controversial allotment made under the Roshni Act, as per the IANS report.

SAC repeals Roshni Act

The State Administrative Council, which is headed by J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik, repealed the Roshni Act in 2018 as it ‘failed to realise the desired objectives and there were reports of misuse of some of its provisions’.

Initially, repealing the Act meant that only the pending applications seeking ownership rights for encroachers to state lands would be cancelled and cases where property rights had already been transferred will hold.

However, the High Court order has termed the Act to be illegal, unjustified, unconstitutional and adverse to the rights guaranteed to the people under the Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India and has held it to be void right from its inception.

Thus, all land allotments, no matter whether the rights were transferred or are pending, under the Roshni Act to illegal encroachers at throwaway prices now stand cancelled.

Why was the Act repealed

In 2014, an advocate, Ankur Sharma, had approached the J&K High Court and appealed for a court-monitored probe into the transfer of land under the Roshni Act, as he suspected irregularities in allotment of state land at throwaway prices to top politicians and bureaucrats, influential businessmen and high-ranking government officials.

According to Barandbench.com, the J&K High Court said: ‘Given the nature of the crimes, the status of those who are involved, including the allegations of involvement of ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials as well as the local police officials of Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, it is essential to do complete justice in the matter and to ensure confidence in the minds of the public that, in order to enable a fair, proper and complete investigation, the CBI should be requested to take up and proceed in the matter in accordance with law.’

The Act was also found to be an attempt to change the demography of the entire region, investigations found.

HC cracks the whip

The court ordered that the Revenue department and the Anti-Corruption Bureau of J&K will furnish all information, with supporting records related to the land allotment under the Roshni Act, to the CBI. Failure to do so may result in contempt of court proceedings.

The court said that CBI will look into the continued encroachment on state land, illegal change of ownership, constructing illegal structures on the land, failure of the authorities to take action against these irregularities, etc.

Petitioner Ankur Sharma, of IkkJutt Jammu organisation, who had first approached the court in the case alleged that an estimated loss of Rs 25,000 crore was caused to the state exchequer in the scam.

The beautiful city of Srinagar. Image used for representational purpose only. Photo: Getty Images
The beautiful city of Srinagar. Image used for representational purpose only. Photo: Getty Images

The high court directed the administration to upload on the official website a list of all encroachers, including influential persons, on government land.

The court said the revenue secretary and the divisional commissioners would be held liable for contempt of court if the directions were not complied.

The order said the revenue department commissioner should ensure that the information regarding district-wise state lands as on January 1, 2001, were compiled and posted on the official website.

The details of government land under illegal occupation and full identity of encroachers and particulars of the land be posted on a website, it said.

These details included the applications received under the Roshni Act, the valuation of the land, the court observed.

It said there should be full information about the identities of all influential persons, including legislators, bureaucrats and businessmen, who have derived benefit under the Act to occupy state lands.

The divisional commissioners shall place on record district-wise full details of the encroached state land not covered by the Roshni act, it said.

The revenue secretary shall ensure that this information is also posted on the website of the respondents within four weeks.

In case the above directions are not complied with, the court said the revenue secretary and the divisional commissioners would be held liable for contempt of court.

The CBI shall also inquire into the continued encroachments on state lands, illegal change of ownership use, grant of licences, misuse of the land and raising of illegal constructions. The agency should also probe failure of the authorities to take action for these illegalities, it said.

The CBI shall specifically inquire into the matter of publication of the Roshni Rules, 2007, without the assent of the legislature.

The high court has asked the CBI to file a status report every eight weeks.

Petitioner Ankur Sharma of IkkJutt Jammu organisation alleged that an estimated loss of Rs 25,000 crore was caused to the exchequer in the scam.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had in 2018 repealed the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, commonly known as the Roshni scheme.

Roshni 'one of the biggest land scams', says BJP

BJP leaders in Srinagar. Image used for representational purpose only. Photo: Getty Images
BJP leaders in Srinagar. Image used for representational purpose only. Photo: Getty Images

The BJP has called the alleged Roshni land scam 'one of the biggest land scams' in the history of Jammu and Kashmir.

The comments come after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had on Friday ordered a CBI probe into the alleged scam in the Roshni land scheme.

Petitioner Ankur Sharma of IkkJutt Jammu organisation alleged that an estimated loss of Rs 25,000 crore was caused to the state exchequer.

BJP leader Kavinder Gupta said the CBI probe was the need of the hour so that truth prevailed, adding that action should be initiated against the leaders and officers involved in this scam.

He alleged that the enactment of the Roshni scheme was a 'huge political fraud'. 'It was one of the biggest land scams in the history of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. We welcome a probe into it,' Gupta said.

With inputs from PTI, Barandbench.com, IANS