Roshni Blackened

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NC devised a controversial scheme aimed at selling state land to the people who had encroached upon and generate a corpus that will fund equity part in various power projects. Some people suggested Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad that he has the possibility of growing slightly taller than Sheikh Abdullah if he distributes the land free to people. This took the racket to a level that is unprecedented in history. Now the governor scrapped the scheme, triggering another controversy, reports Masood Hussain

One of the building that was raised on the land transferred under Roshni Act.

Over the last 10 years, the media and key institutions of the state were adversely commenting on the evolution, modification and the implementation of the controversial Roshni scheme. The ruling elite heard, read and then laughed the concern away.

Last week, when finally the scheme was scrapped by the State Advisory Council (SAC) led by governor Satya Pal Malik, mass concern was not the chief factor. It was a decision encouraged by the Parivaar, apparently aimed at denying certain sections some land under the same law that made thousands of influential people millionaires across the state.

“This scheme has been a blatant fraud and a huge source of corruption,” one senior officer told Kashmir Life. “SAC decision would have made history had it announced a detailed enquiry in its evolution and implementation and also annulled all the benefits that people managed by abusing this law.” The land that government distributed free is, in certain cases, being purchased by the government for various developmental projects at exorbitant costs, he added.

“I was in Radio Kashmir when it was being said that the Scheme would generate Rs 25000 crore for generating power,” Basharat Bukhari, the then Revenue Minister, told the assembly on June 19, 2016, eight months before he was shifted to horticulture. “The government will order an inquiry as the scheme has generated only Rs 78.47 crore, killing its very purpose.” By then, the government had transferred ownership rights for 19,293 Kanals (eight Kanals make an acre) of state land to 10,328 beneficiaries in Kashmir and 21,0398 Kanals to 39,829 beneficiaries in Jammu. The scheme was not extended to Ladakh.

Evolution

Considered as the biggest ever scam in the history of Kashmir, the Roshni scheme was the outcome of the desperation of political parties to strike some cord with the Kashmir population after the elected government returned in 1996. It was actually a bureaucrat, now a politician, who suggested the then Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather that since evicting encroachers from the state land is difficult and bloody, it is better to sell it to them. The idea was to enforce the writ of the state, get some money to the public kitty and spend it on the energy generation.

Ghulam Nabi Azad

Part of the 2001 state budget, the Roshni was the outcome of a frustration that Dr Farooq Abdullah led government was facing. The government rushed to implement the 480-MW Baglihar without financial closure. As the contractor started working, there was no money. All banks across India resorted to one or the other reason to avoid investing in the project that was owned by a conflict-ridden state lacking any experience in major power projects. The preliminary survey suggested that state was in a position to generate a cash of Rs 20,000 crore or more and that will offer a huge corpus to fund all the major power projects. The land that was supposed to be given to encroachers had 1990 as the cut-off date.

NC announced the scheme, the J&K state land (vesting of ownership rights to the occupants) act 2001, (Roshni Act) that was to get into effect on March 1, 2002. The bureaucracy started drafting rules. Well before the implementation would start, the NC lost power. After hectic parleys, a PDP-Congress coalition took over in 2002.

Mufti had completed two years in office, and nobody knew why the Roshni was still dark. As Muzaffar Hussain Baig, the then Finance Minister, started asking questions, the babus came with their problems. They had not drafted the rules because they were facing real big challenges especially in cases where the encroachers had constructed home. It led to a series of meetings, and finally, the rules were drafted and the pricing was entrusted to the committees at the district and divisional levels.

Dr Haseeb Drabu, the then CMD JK Bank and the Economic Adviser of the state, got an opportunity to get his bank into the scheme. Knowing fully well that people would require cash to fund the land costs, he created a special Roshni finance scheme. The Bank anticipated that it would get an exposure of almost Rs 5000 crore once the scheme would start getting implemented. Part of the scheme involves agriculture and it would pave way for more credit absorption under priority sector.

Azad Takes Over

The power shift after Mufti’s three years led Azad to take the driver’s seat. He took a year in understanding things. In 2006, his attention was drawn towards the political windfall that his party could have if he changed the broad contours of the scheme. Incidentally, it was again a Kashmiri bureaucrat who was advising him. Azad changed the scheme as per his mood and took intervals to decimate it.

The first circular came with a set of concessions on the price tag: 75 per cent discount for encroachers in the residential category, 70 per cent in commercial areas and 85 per cent on agriculture land. Political parties and charitable institutions were given a 75 per cent discount on market price. Besides, he gave a rebate of two to 25 per cent for encroachers making the payments within three months or a year.

In the follow-up, Azad went to the cabinet and got his idea approved and addressed the media. Farmers were permitted to own more than two-thirds from the encroached state land of their total possession. Under the law, a person in Jammu and Kashmir cannot own more than 100 Kanals of land. He said farmers would now require paying only 10 per cent of the market price.

Azad put the final nail in Roshni coffin on February 9, 2007, this time taking the assembly route. He amended the law further and gave the encroachers land free. He made it mandatory for the revenue authorities to ensure the grower gets the ownership papers and mutation done against a nominal fee of Rs 100 per Kanal.

“Azad was given to understand that Sheikh Abdullah is known for land to the tiller,” one top officer, who was privy of the developments, said. “He was suggested that if he does something better than that, he can emerge taller than Sheikh!” He did it with brazen ‘honesty’, flouting every ruler on the book. The new law changed the fundamentals of the scheme by shifting the use (of proceeds) from the Roshni scheme from the power sector to the developmental sector. Interestingly, Azad extended the cut-off date from 1990 to 2004 thus envisaging all the encroachments that the entire political class had made for 14 years.

Omar Era

Omar Abdullah ruled for a complete six-year term with Congress. While he took his own tie to understand the vastness of the structure of governance in the state, he started witnessing upheavals from 2009 only. In 2010, there was a mass unrest, and in September 2014, floods devastated Kashmir, everybody was joking: Khoon Ka Badla, June Mein Laingay.

Rather, the architect of the scheme presented six budgets and one vote on account. Never ever did the Roshni become part of his speech. Members would post questions and the government would honestly respond offering whatever detail they sought. Nobody cried over the fate of the scheme. Power generation was on a better track. Baglihar-I was operating and banks were desperate to see that the Jammu and Kashmir State Power Development Corporation should agree to their investment proposals. The situation had changed completely.

CAG Pricks The Balloon

The indictment to the scheme had come months before the floods. Dr Subash Chander Pandey, the then Principal Accountant General (PAG), termed it history’s major scandal. His auditors investigated the cases between November 2012 and July 2013, probed its evolution, changes and the implementation and came out with a damning report. He told reporters that the entire chain of bureaucracy in the state resorted to non-cooperation, thus delaying the submission of the report to the state assembly in time.

“The Roshni Act was systematically diluted and damaged by making deficient rules with having very weak committees to implement it and giving rebates and giving agricultural land free of cost which was against the Act,” the PAG told reporters in Jammu. “Our conclusion is that the government acted beyond the authority given by the Act and violated it.” CAG termed Azad era interventions “irregular” and illegal.

PAG suggested fixing the accountability for the ‘highly questionable’ amendments made to the original law initially in Mufti era and later by the Azad government. Listing “substantive deviation”, the CAG report listed instance in which a huge mass of land was categorised as agriculture land and given free of cost.

Abdul Rahim Rather

CAG report gave interesting instances. The beneficiaries, under the Roshni Act, were the National Conference’s Nawai Subah Trust and the Congress’s Khidmat Trust. Khidmat Trust got 7.15 Kanals of prime commercial land in Lal Chowk, literally. Nawai Subah regularised 3.16 Kanals. “The statutory committee under the Act fixed market rate of the land at Rs 1.10 crore per Kanal in case of the Khidmat Trust and Rs 1.20 crore per Kanal in the case of the Nawai Subah Trust,” Indian Express reported. “Both were given 85 per cent rebate, with land valued at Rs 13.10 crore transferred for only Rs 1.97 crore. This amount too was not recovered, with only Rs 1.47 crore collected so far.”

Unlike the Nawai Subah Trust, the new headquarters of the NC built decades back, the Khidmat Trust is a literal private property. There is a huge complex that the Trust owner set up on a huge piece of land by axing Chinars. In order to protect the property, the person had long back deserted Congress and is now in PDP.

There are scores of politicians from all hues who have staked the claim over state land under the Roshni Act. Some top police and civil administration officers encroached vast patches of land in Kashmir and Jammu, year after Rather placed his budget in the assembly and got it transferred to their families. The business had its own share from the Roshni pie.

Blatant Discrimination

While the influential took the cream from history’s most controversial law that based in illegality, the implementation details suggest a clear and brazen discrimination at regional levels. The quantum of encroachments was more in Jammu than in Kashmir. This automatically generated more applications from Jammu.

Basharat Bukhari

Officials said they had got a total of 253000 applications and they disposed-off 173000 cases in all these years. So far, the total land that was approved for transfer was 3.48 lakh Kanals involving Rs 317.62 crore. However, the government has been able to transfer only 295832 Kanals against a payment of Rs 76.90 crore. More than 77,000 applications are still awaiting disposal. They were delayed because of CAG’s adverse commentary and a set of litigations pending before the courts of law.

In Jammu, according to January 2018 details, the government transferred 1,58,512 Kanals of land. It got Rs 22,63,91,110 to the state’s Consolidated Fund. It meant Rs 1428 per Kanal. In Jammu city, the state’s winter capital, a total of 44912 Kanals of land changed hands against a receipt of Rs 159701000. That means Rs 3555, per Kanal. Interestingly, Jammu district alone had encroached upon three times more land than the entire Kashmir region!

Kashmir is a sweet and interesting story. Against a receipt of Rs 54.27 crore, 13732 Kanals were given to 11247 people. This makes a kanal cost at Rs 39522. The capital city of Srinagar paid Rs 52.17 core for 375 Kanals, which means Rs 13,91,256, a kanal.

Governor’s Intervention

Media continued reporting the abuse of the scheme and the state’s various anti-corruption watchdogs consistently got reports about the misuse of authority. In certain cases, the cases were also registered. The scheme was challenged on multiple counts in the court of law.

Finally, governor Malik took up the issue in his SAC and scrapped the scheme. But there were two major issues that make the decision-making pretty controversial. First, the government said that the entire quantum of land that changed hands will not be retrieved and that is perfectly legal. Second, the scheme scrapping will impact slightly more than 77000 applicants whose requests have not been processed, so far. “All pending proceedings under the Act shall stand cancelled immediately and abate,” the order reads. “However, any action taken under the provisions of the repealed Act earlier shall not be invalid.”

Governor Satya Pal Malik

There is an impression that the cases which have been hanging fire belong to a particular community that lives in a particular geography. “Big players who have already secured the transfer of ownership rights to them aren’t affected,” a senior journalist wrote on Facebook. “The SAC decision, however, bars the pending applications which primarily pertain to the demands of Muslim Bakerwals and Gujjars in Jammu region who have been struggling to secure ownership rights on their lands under this scheme for years now.”

Since the scrapping order has mentioned a Public Interest Litigation filed by a lawyer whose politics is well known, the impression is that it was done to further particular agenda of the Parivaar. The petition, still awaiting the final decision, had already prevented occupants having been conferred upon the ownership rights from selling the possession or raising constructions on such lands. The order came from a bench comprising Chief Justice Justice Geeta Mittal and Justice Alok Aradhe on November 13. Earlier, in 2014, the High Court had stayed the implementation of the scheme.

The scheme was worth a discard from the very day, its core fundamentals were fiddled with. Almost 17 years after, the administration required a political reason to sabotage the scheme makes the decision-making quite controversial.

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