A worrisome Act

J&K govt moves review petition in High Court over Roshni Act annulment, report Riyaz Wani

Jammu and Kashmir government has moved a review petition in the high court about its recent order voiding the Roshni Act that had allowed the occupants of the state land to own it against payment to the government on existing market rate. The government rethink followed after thousands of kanals of land was found to have been regularised in favour of the people, many of them poor.

According to the high court, 604,602 kanals of the state government land had been transferred to the occupants against nominal payments. Of this, the Jammu region accounted for 571,210 kanals, which is 17 times the land regularised in the Valley.

One of the major factors that persuaded the government to seek a review of the government order was the growing unease in its core constituency Jammu, the Hindu majority division of J&K. Though the BJP had accused the past governments who passed the Roshni Act for alloting government land to Muslims in Jammu with an intention to change the demography of the region, it turned out that only 1180 kanals of the 44,000 kanals regularised in Jammu district, had  gone to Muslims.

So, the drive to retrieve the government land had generated deep resentment in Jammu division forcing the BJP to change its mind. More so, at a time when J&K is in the midst of District Development Council polls where the BJP seems at a serious disadvantage with regard to its political rivals.

Earlier in October, the J&K High Court in a judgement with far reaching consequences ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the probe of 25,000 crore Roshni land scam in Jammu and Kashmir. Court also declared all allotments made under the legislation “void” from the beginning.

The court asked J&K Chief Secretary B. V. R. Subrahmanyam to ensure uninterrupted investigation including against those officers in whose tenures the land encroachments had been made. The court also said that all Deputy Commissioners and Divisional Commissioners will be held in contempt of court if they do not co-operate with the investigation.

Now, with the CBI taking over the case and land allotments being cancelled, it is likely to open a Pandora box. The land and properties sold under the repealed Roshni Act are already under the occupation of their new owners. It remains to be seen whether the government will take steps to evict them or make them pay at the latest market rates for such properties

Meanwhile, the government is issuing notices to thousands of people to vacate the government land. Zooni, a 108 year old woman from a Budgam village Branwar is one of them. She has received an eviction notice from the government for the land under her occupation for decades following the annulment of Roshni Act. A video of her posted by the activist Raja Muzaffar where she talks about receiving the notice from the government has gone viral.

“This old woman tells me that her grandfather and father were from this village. She has been residing in this village for over 200 years. Now she is told to leave,” Muzaffar tells in the video. “What justice is this? I request the government to at least have mercy on this old woman.”

“The land she occupies was alloted to her under Grow More Food Program in 1949,” Muzaffar wrote in her Twitter post. Zooni’s fate, however, is uncertain. She will have to wait for the High Court order on the government’s review petition.