After cancelling `state’ land mutations, J&K Govt seeks review of HC judgement on Roshni Act

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Jammu, December 6: After publishing the names of occupants of state land including prominent opposition politicians and cancelling the mutations of land already done in their favour by previous governments under provisions of the Roshni Act, the UT administration has found that it was hitting the landless peasants and homeless people.

In a sudden turn of events, it has approached the Jammu and Kashmir High Court seeking review of its October 9 judgment wherein it has declared the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act, 2001, also known as Roshni Act as void ab initio and cancelled all the land transfers done under it. The government is taking all the necessary steps in implementing the court’s directions in letter and the court’s orders have restored rule of law by stopping the implementation of an Act which was unconstitutional in its very intent and was furthermore, misused in the manner it was administered, submitted a review petition filed by Nazir Ahmad Thakur, Special Secretary Revenue on behalf of the UT Government.

However, “we would like to bring to the notice of the court the fact that a large number of common people would suffer unintentionally,’’ the petition said, adding that “this include landless cultivators and individuals who are themselves residing in dwellings on small areas’’. “They are unfortunately clubbed along with the rich and wealthy land grabbers who have obtained a title over state land through the provisions of the now struck down Act,’’ it pointed out.

Emphasizing the “need to distinguish between these two classes of people – of being a landless cultivator or house-holder with at the most one dwelling house in personal use, would be the primary criteria for differentiating between two classes’’, it prayed the court to allow government to come up on a future date with an appropriate mechanism to enable this class of landless cultivators and single dwelling owners to continue to remain in possession of land, subject to an appropriate ceiling and on payment at an appropriate rate.

However, there will be no relief whatsoever for the encroachers above these ceilings or those who have built commercial properties including institutional and commercial use over state land which would vest with the government, it said.

Expressing apprehensions that the court order may lead to an unintended roving enquiry by the CBI without generating the results sought by the court, the petition also sought safeguard to government officials who implemented the Act as it stood and without any malafide intention. “After the declaration of Roshni Act as void ab initio, the government immediately cancelled all the mutations of land done under its provisions, it submitted that the government officials who implemented the Act as it stood and without any malafide intention are not to be harmed. “any inquiry should best take on fraud, or malafide, or criminal intent’’ and on encroachment, obtaining government land through fradulant means,’’ it said.

In support of its request, it pointed out that the court’s intent was to probe any malafide in the manner Roshni Act and the Rules were framed, as also to identify the wealthy and influential individuals who manipulated the system to obtain benefits under the Roshni Act or encroached upon public land, besides to focus on those who implemented the Act with malafide intent and deliberate distortion “It must have not been the court’s intent to have detailed investigations into thousands of government functionaries who implemented the Act, as it was framed then, without any malafide intent,’’ it said.

The UT government sought court’s directions to CBI to focuss on “influential and powerful people who defrauded the state’’, adding that it may be appropriate for the investigating agency to `focus on design of legal and policy frame work and changes thereto with malafide intention to encroach public land and get possessory rights, fradulant transactions made by private individuals with or without the connivance of government officials, encroachments on government land which was not brought under Roshni and not even mentioned in records, besides wrongful implementation of Roshni Act and actions thereof.

It also sought review of the court’s direction asking Anti Corruption Bureau to transfer cases against officials for irregularities in transfer of state land to private individuals by misusing their official position. Pointing out that these cases are at different stages of investigation including prosecution sanction, charge sheet etc., it said that transfer of cases which are at advance stage to CBI will delay bringing the guilty to book.

The government requested the court to order ACB take necessary action in these cases in a time bound manner and if any of the elements like fraud, manipulation or malafide intent comes to light, transfer it to CBI.

Significantly, a number of senior IAS officers including present advisor to UT’s Lt Governor Baseer Khan have already been named by ACB in its investigations into the transfer of prime JDA land in Jammu and forest land at Gulmarg to private individuals in Kashmir Valley. The ACB in its fresh investigations again had indicted Baseer Khan making the court to restart trial in the Gulmarg land scam.

In support of its review petition, government pointed out that in the past few weeks after the court judgement, it has come across frauds like multiple transactions on a piece of private owned land to illegally occupy government land. “Detecting fradualent acts require forensic workers who have knowledge of the mechanism by which this is done,’’ it said, adding that the “government intends to constitute special teams comprising officials with revenue background to look into such cases of fraud and then pass them on to CBI for conclusion of the investigation process.

Pointing out that cases of fraud would not be easily detected without technical assistance, it said that these teams would also go into the details of encroachment of government land, whether recorded as state land or transferred to development authorities/ agencies. These teams would also identify the instances wherever there have been wrongful implementation of the Act and Rules thereunder, as it stood at that time, it said, requesting the court to modify its judgement dated October 9 last “for the same would be in the interest of justice’’.

The UT government’s decision to seek review of High Court’s judgement on Roshni Act, according to many has come in the wake of saffron party facing the heat in the ongoing DDC polls wherein people are angry with it over administration’s cancellation of mutations of state land earlier done in their favour. In this context, sources referred to Choudhary Lal Singh, former minister and leader of the Dogra Swabhiman Sanghthan, who has been appealing people to vote against BJP to get back their land whose mutations have been cancelled by the administration recently on ground of its being state land.

Advocate Sheikh Shakeel, counsel for Prof S K Bhalla, attributed the decision to the realization that implementing high court judgement was going to hit only the BJP interests. In Jammu district, of the 44,000 kanals of state land regularized under Roshni, Muslims have been vested ownership rights in respect to only 1,180 kanal, he pointed out, adding that it is for anybody’s guess as to who were the beneficiaries of over 42,000 kanals of land.

Ankur Sharma, Chairman of IkkJutt Jammu and who had through a PIL sought declaration of Roshni Act as unconstitional and void, said that there was no need for the administration to file a review petition as it could have easily vested ownership of state land being cultivated by landless peasants straightway under provisions of the Agrarian Reforms Act since 1971 girdwari stands entered in their name by the revenue officials.

BJP’s chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi said that the party in principle opposes any sort of encroachment on state land and welcomes the declaration of Roshni Act as void. Pointing out that he was yet to see the review petition filed by the administration, he said that the government may have sought a review of the judgement to avoid inconvenience to landless peasents and homeless people who too have got small landholdings under the Act.