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Kashmir’s top political, business families in CAG’s Roshni list (II)

Jammu and Kashmir land scam

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s 2013-14 report on the special audit of the so-called Roshni Scheme made it clear that successive ruling parties had no intention to generate resources for making Jammu and Kashmir self-reliant in electric power. It discovered that the real purpose of introducing the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, aka Roshni Act, was neither for supporting the poor population nor for generating electricity.

It was in fact a modus operandi to accord ownership rights against nominal price to the influential people who had grabbed the same illegally or acquired it from lease-holders since long. The CAG report carried details of the irregularities done from interpretation to implementation, particularly in favor of the occupants enjoying very strong political or bureaucratic clout. In Srinagar, most of the prime State lands were found to have been transferred to the powerful politico-bureaucratic elite for prices one-tenth to one-twentieth of market value.

A large number of the beneficiaries were from families close to former Chief Ministers, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad and Ghulam Mohammad Shah, former Deputy Chief Minister, Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg, and former Minister Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah. The Congress and the National Conference also regularized their unauthorized occupation of the prime lands on which they had raised party offices besides printing presses and offices of their official organs—daily Khidmat and Nawa-e-Subah. Thanks to Roshni, the Congress got proprietary rights over a prime piece of seven kanal and 15 marlas close to the fashionable Residency Road in Kothibagh area of Srinagar. It is currently valued at Rs 80 crore.

Its price was fixed at Rs 8.54 crore (Rs 1.10 crore/kanal). The Congress enjoyed a rebate of Rs 7.58 crore and paid a total of Rs 96 lakh to the Government. The Congress-controlled Khidmat Trust operates the head office of daily Khidmat and several modern printing presses at the same premises.

A multi-floor commercial complex worth over Rs 50 crore has also come up on the same land. According to reports, former J&K Congress president and head of the trust, Ghulam Rasool Kar, got it transferred to his name. The NC too has its party headquarters in a multi-floor commercial complex built on a piece of State land, measuring three kanal and 16 marlas. Offices and printing presses of the NC’s Urdu and English dailies, Nawa-e-Subah, also operate from the same premises near Zero Bridge in the heart of Civil Lines in Srinagar.

The land alone is currently valued at Rs 35 crore. Its price was fixed at Rs 4.56 crore (Rs 1.20 crore/kanal). The party enjoyed a rebate of Rs 4.05 crore and paid a total of Rs 51 lakh. Family members and close relatives of Late Lala Tirath Ram Amla, known as a member of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ for about 20 years, are indisputably the biggest beneficiaries of the Roshni Act. Amla’s son, K.K. Amla had a piece of 11 kanals of the State land in his occupation.

In the 1960-70s, the family raised J&K’s first 9-floor hotel, Broadway, on the same land on Maulana Azad Road. This land is currently valued at Rs 100 crore. The price fixation committee fixed its value at Rs 11 crore. The Amlas enjoyed a rebate of Rs 8.52 crore and got its ownership rights against the payment of Rs 2.48 crore. Tirath Ram Amla’s daughter, Vijay Lakshmi, separately got ownership rights on the prime State land of four kanals in Rajbagh. Three more members of the Amla family got proprietary rights on four more kanals of the occupied State land in Rajbagh. Together, these five properties are currently valued at Rs 150 crore.

The CAG report has identified a large number of the beneficiaries of the Roshni Scheme from the most powerful political and business families—the relatives of one-time Prime Minister Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, one-time deputy CM Mirza Afzal Beg, former CM Ghulam Mohammad Shah, former Minister Mohiuddin Shah.

The list also includes the top business families of the Shahdads, the Tramboos, the Matoos, the Ashais and the Draboos. Leading hotelier Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya has got ownership rights on a prime piece of the State land, measuring five kanals and eight marlas, on Maulana Azad Road. He has paid Rs 97.20 lakh and enjoyed a rebate of Rs 3.35 crore. He has also regularised his possession of four kanals and 16 marals in Gogji Bagh.

For this, Chaya has paid Rs 66.52 lakh and taken a rebate of Rs 1.27 crore. Together the two properties are currently valued at Rs 80 crore. Chief Secretary in Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s NC government in 1978-80, Syed Muzaffar Aga, who also served as the Indian ambassador to South Korea, has also got proprietary rights on a prime State land of two kanals and one marla on the river Jhelum bank at Lalmandi. He has paid Rs 58.28 lakh and enjoyed a rebate of Rs 1.47 crore.

CAG has strongly disputed the government’s competence to grant such huge rebates. Unauthorised possessions have also been regularised on huge rebates to a number of religious centres—Hemis Gumpa Rajbagh (12 marlas), Idara Auqaf Gausia Sarai Payeen (1 kanal, 1 marla), Shivji Mandir Solina (6 kanals, 5 marlas) and Amadiya Masjid Karan Nagar (2 kanals, 2 marlas). The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries has also got ownership rights on the occupied State land of two kanals at Rajbagh. S.P. Sethi (2.03 kanals at MA Road), Tribvan Krishen Mirza and others (2 kanals at Rajbagh), Puran Kumar Kaul and others (1.02 kanal at Sarai Payeen), Vishwanath Sehgal (4 kanals at Gogji Bagh), Rajinder Kumar and Jitender Kumar (4 kanals at Gogji Bagh), Kulbhushan Lal Jain (4 kanals at Gogji Bagh), Leelavati (1.10 kanal at Magarmal Bagh), Vishal Khana (4 kanals at Gogji Bagh), Chaman Lal Kaul and others (1.12 kanal at Sheikhbagh), Harbanslal Malhotra and others (4 kanals at Khujyarbal), Tej Bahadur Singh (4 kanals at Khujyarbal), Kamalnain Singh and others (4 kanals at Abi Guzar) Amarjit Singh Sethi and Harjit Singh Sethi (4.18 kanals at Gogji Bagh) and B. Mehta (4 kanal at Lambert Lane) have surfaced among hundreds of the beneficiaries of the Roshni in Srinagar.