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Abdullah's Sister in Fresh List of Land Beneficiaries under Scrapped Roshni Act, NC Mulls Legal Recourse

File photo of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.

File photo of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.

According to the fresh list, majority of the beneficiaries legalised their residential places under the scheme, while there are also names of dozens of businessmen who have got the ownership of their commercial buildings.

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah's sister and two prominent hoteliers, including a Congress leader, figure in the second list of 130 people who have availed land under now-scrapped Roshni Act. According to the fresh list uploaded on the website of Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, majority of the beneficiaries, including a former bureaucrat and his wife, legalised their residential places under the scheme, while there are also names of dozens of businessmen who have got the ownership of their commercial buildings.

This is the second list of beneficiaries issued by the divisional administration in accordance with the October 9 directive of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which has declared Roshni Act "illegal, unconstitutional and unsustainable" and ordered a CBI probe into the allotment of the land under this law. The administration uploaded a list of 35 beneficiaries which included former finance minister Haseeb Drabu, some of his relatives and top hoteliers and a former bureaucrat earlier.

Rejecting claims of the administration that its party leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah had encroached on land in Jammu, the NC said it is mulling legal recourse to challenge the "unfounded and unwarranted allegations" being levelled against them.

In a statement, a party spokesperson said the allegations of the administration has reached "an obnoxious level" and pointed out that the party vice president Omar Abdullah never owned land or a house either in Jammu or Srinagar and stayed with his father.

The second list included names of Congress leader KK Amla and Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya, both prominent businessmen and hoteliers besides former bureaucrat Mohammad Shafi Pandit and his wife. Suriya Abdullah, sister of Farooq Abdullah, was also named among the beneficiaries who got ownership of an over three kanal plot under residential use.

According to the list, the land had been approved by the authorities but she was yet to pay Rs 1 crore fees. No notice had also been issued to her since the time of approving the land in her name. On November 1, the Union Territory administration cancelled all land transfers that took place under the JK State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 - also known as the Roshni Act - under which 2.5 lakh acres of land was to be transferred to the existing occupants.

Meanwhile, the NC spokesperson said, "The malicious nature of the allegations are laid bare by the fact that even though Mr Omar Abdullah does not own the land but actually lives with his father in Jammu as he does in Srinagar. Yet in order to hype up a frenzy, his name has been added to the list and released by the government. The fact that DDC and ULB elections are underway, answers the timing and motive aspect of the allegations and nothing much needs to be added on that score."

He clarified that all claims with respect to any encroachments in building a house in Jammu by its party president "are unequivocally denied" and the land of Farooq Abdullah has nothing to do with the Roshni Act. The statement comes a day after the Division Commissioner of Jammu made public a list of people who had allegedly encroached on the forest land. The administration claimed that the house in Jammu, belonging to Farooq Abdullah and his son, was encroached.

However, it made it clear that it had nothing to do with the Roshni Act, which was scrapped by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The spokesperson said that all questions pertaining to the land in question would be fittingly answered as and when they are called upon to do so by the authorities concerned.

With respect to the office premises of the party at Srinagar and Jammu, it is stated that the same were in possession of the party under lease and on the promulgation of the Roshni Act, the National Conference had also availed the benefit of the scheme, the spokesman said. Without affording the opportunity of hearing to any of the beneficiaries (including the party), the Act was declared to be unconstitutional by the high court thereby leaving "thousands of our citizens, who had bonafidely sought benefit of the scheme, are now virtually deprived of their home and hearth for no fault of theirs".

The party expressed surprise that the administration, instead of challenging the decision of the high court, "abdicated its duty and in a manner of unusual promptitude sought the implementation of the judgment". "It is surprising that while similar acts of conversion of leasehold property into freehold property on similar conversion charges is in vogue in other parts of the country including Delhi, Gujarat and Maharashtra, yet the same legislative exercise in JK was declared unconstitutional and the administration chose to do nothing about it," it said.

The spokesman said the party has sought necessary legal advice and is in the process of taking appropriate legal steps to safeguard its interests.

According to the high court order, a total of 6,04,602 kanals (75,575 acres) of state land had been regularised and transferred to the occupants. This included 5,71,210 kanals (71,401 acres) in Jammu and 33,392 kanals (4174 acres) in the Kashmir province. The principal secretary and revenue department have been asked to work out a plan to retrieve these lands vested under the Act.

"Principal Secretary to Government, Revenue Department shall also work out the modalities and plan to evict encroachers from such State Land and retrieve the State land within a period of six months. Principal Secretary to Government, Revenue Department shall work out modalities for handling the money received for these lands after annulment," the JK government had said in a statement.

According to the order, complete identities of influential persons, including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers and businessmen, their relatives or persons holding benami for them, who have derived benefit under the Roshni Act, will be made public within a period of one month. The Roshni Act was enacted in 2001 with the twin objective of generating resources for financing power projects and conferment of proprietary rights to the occupants of the state land. It initially envisaged conferment of proprietary rights of around 20.55 lakh kanals (102750 hectares) to the occupants of which only 15.85 per cent land was approved for vesting of ownership rights.

The scheme was finally repealed by the then governor Satya Pal Malik on November 28, 2018. Amid reports about its widespread misuse, the entire legislation was challenged before the high court which stayed the proceedings under the Act and also directed that neither the occupants having been conferred upon the ownership rights shall sell these lands nor can raise constructions on such lands.

In 2014, however, the Comptroller and Auditor General had estimated that only Rs 76 crore had been raised from the transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013.

first published:November 25, 2020, 16:42 IST