Roshni verdict: HC advances hearing in UT’s review petition to Dec 11

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J&K govt seeks early hearing to protect poor and landless people from getting unsettled, have focused CBI probe on encroachers instead of revenue officials

Jammu, Decembere 8: A day after fixing for December 16 the UT government’s petition seeking review of its October 9 judgment declaring the 2001 J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act, also called as Roshni Act and cancelling all the transfers of state land to private individuals under it, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court here on Tuesday preponed hearing in the matter to December 11 after the former citing urgency said the CBI could conduct a roving enquiry into the cases, which are already under investigation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and also those wherein it has already filed challan in the courts.

This followed when Additional Advocate General Aseem Sawhney through an urgent hearing motion told the division bench comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal that the matter needed urgent intervention of the court as the poor and landless people who had been benefitted under the Roshni Act too are going to face the heat along with the wealthy and unscrupulous elements which was never its intention. While the UT government was implementing the high court judgment, there was disquiet among the poor and landless people, as also the revenue officials, he said, adding that it may not happen that CBI instead of investigating the encroachers start proceedings against “our own officials’’.

Responding to UT’s plea that it does not want to “unsettle the settled’’ and so it may be allowed to lay down a policy differentiating the poor and landless from influential and rich occupants of state land, the bench observed “who has stopped you’’. As the bench observed “we have not restrained anybody…There is no stay order,’’ Aseem Sawhney said that through an urgent early hearing, it wants to seek court’s direction in the matter as it does not want to be seen as it is trying to bypass the route of the judgment, or trying to mellow it down.

However, while fixing the UT government’s review petition and the main public interest litigation filed by Prof S K Bhalla for December 11, the bench also made significant observations saying “we donot want lopsided investigations and it should be fair…We do not want discrimination of any kind in the name of religion, region, cultural and status’’.  It also asked the CBI to file action taken report in a sealed cover on the next date of hearing.

This followed when advocate Sheikh Shakeel, counsel for Prof S K Bhalla, who had filed public interest litigation seeking constitution of a special investigation team to investigate cases of encroachment of state and forest land by bureaucrats and politicians and their subsequent prosecution, vehemently pointed out “selective targeting’’ after the division bench’s October 9 judgment, adding that a narrative was build contrary to the facts to target a particular community and this regard even media was used to foster the false narrative.

He also submitted that administration in Jammu division was selectively leaking the names of high profile persons of a particular community to fortress and foster that narrative. Sheikh Shakeel further accused the Jammu’s divisional administration of suppressing and concealing the records of Bhalwal tehsil in Jammu district after a name akin to the name of a former Deputy Chief Minister of the erstwhile state figured in a list run by a local media portal.

Of the prominent cases investigated by ACB include 2009 Gulmarg land scam wherein a former IAS officer Baseer Khan, present Advisor to UT’s Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, has been named as an accused among 20 others. However, the government has not proceeded against him despite sanction of prosecution by the DoPT.

Another case pertained to irregularities into the vesting of ownership rights of 5 kanal Jammu Development Authority land in favour of an influential businessman Bansi Lal Gupta who also ran an English daily from Jammu. However, as the then Vigilance Organisation failed to get sanction for prosecution against a number of senior officers found involved in the matter, it filed a closure report before the Special Judge Anti Corruption  in July 2019 saying “there was “police-bureaucratic, political, business, media nexus’’ for adopting the attitude of “shut-eye’’ by Revenue Department in respect of Khasra No. 781 comprising 154 kanals of land. The court, however, had declined to accept the closure report.

IkkJutt Jammu chairman and advocate Ankur Sharma, who had through a separate public interest litigation challenged the constitutional validity of the Roshni Act and sought CBI inquiry into the matter, said that he would be certainly opposing the review petition as it is a government ploy probably for vote bank politics. The only distinction shall be farmers who have been cultivating agricultural land for past 40-50 years, he said, adding the other encroachers cannot be accommodated.

Pointing out that the government should have given them ownership rights right in 1970s on the basis of their 1971 girdawari under provisions of J&K Agrarian Reforms Act, he said that this was retrieved from big landlords after the application of a ceiling of 80 kanals per individual and passed on to the cultivators. However, the successive governments did not fulfill their duty by entering cultivators as owners of that land as a result, it continued to be shown as state land. Instead of seeking review of high court’s October 9 order, it shall straightway apply section 4 and 8 of the Agrarian Reforms Act where under the farmers in possession of this agricultural land will automatically become its owners, he added.