HC terms Roshni Act unconstitutional, orders CBI probe

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In a landmark judgement, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Friday declared the controversial Roshni Act “unconstitutional” and directed that investigation into the Rs 25,000 crore land allotment scheme under it be transferred to the CBI.

A division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal allowed the application that sought transfer of the case from the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to the CBI.

The Act, enacted by the state legislature in November 2001 and enforced in March 2002, envisaged raising funds for hydro power generation in the state by transferring state land into private ownership to collect Rs 25,000 crore.

A CAG report estimated that against the targeted Rs 25,000 crore, only Rs 76 crore had been realised from the transfer of land into private ownership.

Politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats had come under severe criticism for transferring state land into their ownership and that of their favourites at arbitrarily fixed rates, which ultimately deprived the state of land worth several thousand crores and also defeated the purpose of the act.

In its judgement, the high court declared the law unconstitutional and held all allotments made under the Act void ab initio.

It ordered that the investigation of the land scam be transferred to the CBI which will file the status report within eight weeks.

The court also said that J&K Chief Secretary will ensure uninterrupted investigation which will also be directed against those officers in whose tenures the encroachments had happened.

The court said all Deputy Commissioners and Divisional Commissioners will be held for contempt of court if they do not cooperate with the investigation.

Advocate Ankur Sharma had filed the application for CBI probe in the PIL he had filed in the Court in 2011 seeking a probe into the alleged Roshni land scam.

He submitted before the court that Anti-corruption Bureau acted in a dilatory way to probe the matter as there was involvement of politicians, bureaucrats, police officers in the alleged scam.

While referring to CAG’s Report No. 1 of  2014 Sharma brought attention of the court towards “encroachment” of “20 Lakh Kanals of State Land” and an “estimated loss of Rs 25,000 Crores” to the State Exchequer by “criminal and wrongful implementation of Roshni Act”.

Advocate S S Ahmed had drawn the attention of the court towards various interim orders wherein displeasure was expressed with regard to Deputy Commissioners of six districts who had “delayed the handing over of records to the State Vigilance Organization (now ACB).”

The court had reserved the order on the application and announced the same today with a direction to the CBI to carry out the investigation into the matter.

While the court announced the judgment on Friday, copy of the same is expected to be issued on Saturday.

Notably, Jammu and Kashmir Administration in November 2018 under the chairmanship of the then Governor Satya Pal Malik had approved the repeal of the J&K State Lands (Vesting of the ownership to the occupant) Act 2001 commonly known as Roshni Scheme.

As per the official statement issued by the Government in 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of the ownership to the occupants) Act was enacted in 2001 with the twin objective of generating resources for financing power projects and conferment of proprietary rights to the occupants of the State Lands.

The scheme had the aim of giving proprietary rights of around 20.55 lakh kanals (1 acre= 8 kanals) to the occupants of which only 15.85% land was approved for vesting of ownership rights, the spokesman had said. However, a 2014 report by the Controller and Auditor General said that the Roshni Scheme had miserably failed to achieve its desired target. The CAG report had also hinted towards a major scam which needed to be investigated.

As per the CAG report of 2014, under the Roshni scheme, the then Government had set a target of around 25,000 crores for funding the power projects by selling the 20,64,972 kanals of state land. However, the CAG report pointed out that by 2013, the Government had collected a meagre sum of 76 crores by transferring 3,48,160 kanals of land, thus falling way behind the set target. The CAG report also pointed out that the scheme had also failed to serve its second purpose that was to stop new encroachments. However, the encroachment of state land continued unabated despite the Act being in place.