The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of ownership to the occupants) Act, 2001 popularly known as Roshni Act, was brought in with the prime objective of generating funds to finance the power projects in J&K by selling the occupied State Lands at market prices to both, authorised and unauthorised occupants. Also, the vacant state lands were to be auctioned publicly. The act was amended twice, first in 2004 and then in 2007 presumably for vested interests. Also, the act authorised the executive to frame rules for the proper implementation of the act and the rules so framed were called ‘Roshni Rules’. The rules so made by the Executive required no ratification by the legislature according to the provisions of the act. The Government notified the Roshni rules on 25th August, 2005, amended it on 23rd November, 2006 and once again on 5th March, 2007.
According to the Government estimates, out of the total 125,03,973 Kanals of State Land, around 20,64,972 Kanals was under encroachment. The estimated value of this encroached land is ₹ 25,448 Crore. The targeted amount was hence ₹ 25,448. However, due to the institutional corruption in the state departments coupled with an inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy, not only the land as a natural resource was squandered away but, the amount generated could hardly cross the Rs 75 Crore mark. Every possible attempt was made to cover up the scam and even the repeated requests of the Audit Officials for necessary documents were met with utter disregard. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) through his Principal Accountant General did a worthy job, unearthed this huge scam and this is how it could come into the public domain.
How did the scam take place?
In the first instance, the rules so framed under the act for its implementation were repugnant to the parent act and hence contrary to the scope and objectives of the act. Thus the Roshni Rules in itself are irregular. This is how the will of the legislature was jeopardised and a blatant abuse of the Executive Power was unleashed. The Roshni rules for instance, provided for the transfer of all agricultural lands free of cost, which is beyond the scope, objectives and mandatory provisions of the act. Therefore all transfers of agricultural lands under the act become illegal. The act envisaged lands to be sold at market price but the rules provided for differential pricing and various kinds of rebates thereby causing huge losses to the exchequer. This was also contrary to the scope and objective of the act. This was done presumably to benefit the vested interests. The membership of the committees framed under the parent act for the processing of land transfers, was downgraded under the rules, only to give affect to this huge scam.
The ambiguity caused due to the amendments in the act and the rules, led to the benefit of vested interests. According to the CAG report, ” instances were found where even applications already decided upon under the pre-amended rules were reprocessed after the amendment of the rules.” There is an another dimension to these repeated amendments and which can be understood from the findings of the CAG report. The report says, ” Section 5(b) of the Act, passed in 2001, provided that only such occupants seeking transfer of ownership were eligible to apply who had been in actual physical possession of the land during the period from 1 January, 1990 to the commencement of the Act in a particular area. Thus the original Act (2001) limited the benefit of the scheme only to the long-term occupants. Under the 2004 Amendment to the Act, all those occupants who were in actual physical possession of the land, either personally or through their authorised agents, on the commencement of the 2004 Amendment Act were made eligible to apply, irrespective of the length of period of occupation.” This encouraged large scale land grabbing and those who had earlier failed to occupy lands, utilised this chance to their full advantage. This was further encouraged and made easy by the Government in delaying its publication in the gazette by around two months. The act was to come into force on the date of its publication. It was assented to by the Governor on 19th March, 2004 and was published in the gazette on 21st May, 2004. Even there was an error in publishing the correct version of the amended act of 2007 vis a vis section 12(3) of the act.
The transfer of lands was carried out without mapping of lands, which affected the determination of market value of the transferred lands by the committees. The applications that arrived for the regularisation of the occupied lands were processed in an arbitrary and unprofessional manner. Incomplete applications without all the necessary documents were also accepted and majority of the applications accepted were those, which were submitted after the passing of the last date for applying. In some of the test cases conducted by the Audit Officials, it was found that rebates up-to 60% of the market price were given to the illegal occupants thereby causing huge loses to the public exchequer. Private interest trumped the public interest and the public servants were themselves implicit in this act of causing loss to the public exchequer. The committees framed under the law functioned arbitrarily and contrary to the provisions of the law. In the CAG report it is said that the lists of cases approved/rejected were not signed by all the committee members. It is also said that no proper records of date wise Minutes of the meeting under which price fixation committee deliberated upon the fixation of price procedure were maintained. The CAG’s report deals with the issue of causing loss to the exchequer due to irregular rebates over the price fixed by the committees, in great detail. It also mentions of the undue benefit of higher rebates along with irregular transfer of lands to Trusts like Khidmat Trust, Nawi Subah Trust, both belonging to Srinagar. Commenting on irregular mutation of lands, the report says, ” Mutation of title in revenue records should be carried out only after the transfer deed has been duly registered. Audit noticed that this was not being done and the State Exchequer was put to loss not only on account of transfer of lands free or below the price fixed by the committees but also on account of non-collection of stamp duty.”
Section 10 of the Act had contemplated creation of a separate fund under a proper account number in the J&K Bank in each district or to allot an account head in which cost of the land realised under this act should be deposited but, no such Fund or Account was created. Individuals deposited the moneys in Treasuries and the revenue authorities didn’t carry any reconciliation with concerned Treasuries and the report laments that in Jammu, status report showed a collection of ₹9.35 Crore but the treasury receipts attached with the application forms indicated receipt of ₹8.33 Crore only. The difference amount stands unaccountable. The Monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Act was introduced only in April 2012 and according to the CAG report, the Status Report of the Roshni Act sent by D.C Jammu to the higher authorities was not prepared on the basis of the inputs actually received from the subordinate officers. In Srinagar, there were instances of land transfer not included in the progress reports sent to the higher authorities.
The principal objective of the act stands defeated though the state has lost sizeable lands. Major portions of the lands have been categorised as ‘Agricultural’ and transferred free of cost. After transfer of 3,48,160 Kanals of Land under the act, new encroachments are continuing unabated. It is in this background that the Principal Accountant General of J&K in an unprecedented manner had to call a Press Conference in which he said, “every possible attempt was made to cover up the biggest ever land scam by denying vital information for the audit .” Further commenting upon the role of officials he said, ” several officers in the Government hierarchy maintained hostile attitude towards numerous communiqués from his office and this clearly indicates that they were not in the favour of Roshni Scam being unearthed completely. I have filed a petition in the J&K High Court in which a court monitored CBI probe has been sought to unearth the scam as the State Vigilance Organisation is directly under the control of the State Government.