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J&K ‘land grab’ story sheds new 'Roshni' with names of Farooq Abdullah, Haseeb Drabu

J&K ‘land grab’ story sheds new 'Roshni' with names of Farooq Abdullah, Haseeb Drabu

Complying with the orders of a Division Bench (DB) of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the Divisional Commissioner of Jammu has uploaded the first list of the people who have allegedly encroached upon the State lands or become owners of the State lands through the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act, 2001, commonly known as the Roshni Act.

Quoting a survey carried out by the Revenue Department, the official domain has placed the former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, who is currently Jammu and Kashmir National Conference’s President and Lok Sabha member from Central Kashmir, in the category of the high-profile ‘land grabbers’. Simultaneously the official records have mentioned the former Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu and four of his relatives as the beneficiaries of the Roshni Scheme.

Dr Abdullah’s JKNC government had made the Roshni Act in the year 2001 with the objective of generating the revenue of over Rs 25,000 crore by way of vesting ownership rights on some categories of the State lands to the occupants who had either grabbed such properties unlawfully or acquired their lease-hold rights. Then Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather had asserted in the Assembly that the money generated from the transfer of such lands would be utilised for making Jammu and Kashmir self-sufficient in electric power.

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The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) pointed out a slew of ‘irregularities’ in the Roshni Scheme in an audit report in 2014. The CAG report highlighted the fact that over 90 percent of the occupied lands had been shown in the Agriculture category and given to the occupants virtually free. According to the CAG report, not more than Rs 76 crore had been generated from such lands in about 12 years. It disputed the Rules notified from time to time to extend the term of operation of the Roshni Scheme and questioned the executive’s authority to notify the Rules without the Legislature’s consent.

In 2018, then Governor Satya Pal Malik rescinded the Roshni Act prospectively, albeit without cancelling the actions taken under it since 2001.

Hearing two Public Interest Litigations (PILs) the DB, comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal, on October 9, 2020, nullified the Roshni Act, along with pertinent Rules, as also all the actions taken under it. It also transferred investigation of all the Roshni-related FIRs from J&amp;K’s Anti-Corruption Bureau to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

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In compliance to the High Court order and the directions issued by the Law Department, the Principal Secretary Revenue in October 2020 ordered all the actions under the Roshni Act as void ab initio. According to the Law Department order, the Principal Secretary Revenue was bound to make public within a month complete identities of all influential persons, including Ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, Police officers, businessmen etc. including their relatives or persons holding benami for them under the Roshni Act.

Knowledgeable sources insist that the lists of so-called Roshni beneficiaries and ‘land grabbers’ to be uploaded include a number of former Ministers, high-profile politicians, retired and serving IAS, KAS and IPS officers, at least two former judges of the J&amp;K High Court, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jammu and top notch businessmen and hoteliers.

The IAS officers allegedly involved in granting ownership rights unlawfully or issuing No Objection Certificates include Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar, Commissioner-Secretary Forest Sarita Chauhan and Sudhanshu Panday, currently on Central deputation as Secretary Department of Food and Public Distribution. Sources said that they would be all named as per the High Court order. Calling them for questioning would be the discretion of the CBI. The beneficiaries also include three Chief Secretary rank officers. All the three have retired long back and two of them have died.

The Union Territory administration has named not only Dr Abdullah but also a number of his neighbours in Bhathindi area of Jammu—former Ministers Sajad Kichloo and Abdul Majid Wani, former MLA Mohammad Sayeed Akhoon, retired High Court judge Ali Mohammad Mir and former Chairman of J&amp;K Bank Ltd, Mohammad Yousuf Khan. The Congress-owned Khidmat Trust has been mentioned as the unauthorised occupant of 7 kanals and 15 marlas of prime land near Lalchowk in Srinagar. The JKNC-owned ‘Nawa-e-Subah Trust’ has been shown as the occupant of 3 kanals and 16 marlas of State land near Zero Bridge in Srinagar.

Dr Abdullah has allegedly purchased only 3 kanals of the proprietary land in Bhathindi in 1998 and subsequently occupied 7 kanals of State and Forest land on which he constructed a house over 20 years back. He, as well as JKNC, claimed in separate statements that there was no substance in the reports circulating in the media.

“The news attributed to sources that Dr Farooq Abdullah is a beneficiary of the Roshni Act is completely false and is being spread with a malicious intent. Dr Farooq Abdullah has not availed of the Roshni Scheme for either his residence in Srinagar or in Jammu and anyone who says otherwise is lying. The fact that they are using sources to plant this story shows that it has no legs to stand on," said the JKNC statement.

Drabu told a TV channel that his mother had ‘lawfully’ acquired lease-hold rights of 4 kanals of State land from its occupant Uttam Singh Khorana in 1956 when he was not even born. According to him, the lease expired in 1980. As the family applied for extension of lease, there was no action on the two applications submitted in 1980 and 1990. The third application was favourably processed in 2000 and recommended by Srinagar Development Authority. Subsequently the ownership rights were granted under Roshni Act in 2007 against payment of Rs 7.50 lakh per kanal..