Roshni Act [Current Affairs for UPSC & Govt. Exams]

The Roshni Act is seen frequently in the daily news off late. The state act has been mired in controversy and has been repealed by the then Governor of Jammu & Kashmir. In this article, you can read all about the Roshni Act, the controversy surrounding the legislation and the irregularities associated with it, for the UPSC exam.

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What is Roshni Act?

The Roshni Act is formally known as the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001.

  • It was enacted in 2001 by the then J&K state government led by Farooq Abdullah (National Conference) and sought to regularise unauthorised land.
  • As per the Act, the ownership rights of land would be transferred to its occupants on the payment of a fee fixed by the government.
  • 1990 was set as the cut-off date for encroachment on state land.
  • The state government projected a target of Rs.25000 crore to be earned by selling the land to the occupants.
  • The proceeds were to be used for hydropower projects for generating electricity, hence the name, Roshni (meaning light).
  • In 2005, the PDP-Congress coalition government changed the cut-off year to 2004 from 1990 by an amendment to the Act.
  • In a later amendment, the Ghulam Nabi Azad government set the premium at 25% of the market rate and the cut-off date at 2007.
  • In the case of agricultural land, the ownership was given for free and the occupants only had to pay a minor documentation fee.

However, the government did not earn Rs.25000 crore as touted and the total area of land transferred was also much less than the targeted area.

  • When the Act was passed in the J&K Assembly, the government expected to make a transfer of 20.46 lakh kanals (1.02 lakh hectares) of land.
    • This included 4.44 lakh kanals in Kashmir and 16.02 lakh kanals in Jammu.
  • But approval for transfer of land was accorded to only 6.04 lakh kanals (5.71 lakh kanals in Jammu and 33,392 kanals in Kashmir).
  • Actual transfer was done only for 3.48 lakh kanals of land.
  • From the proclaimed target of Rs.25000 crore, the government made a revised target of Rs.317.55 crore and the actual earning was only Rs.76.46 crore.
  • In the Kashmir area, most of the land transferred under the Roshni Act had been leased out for residential purposes and to business houses.

Also read about the various other important acts and bills for the UPSC exam in the linked article.

Roshni Act – What is the controversy?

In 2014, the CAG report highlighted irregularities in the scheme and called it a scam. The Act was alleged to fuel corruption and the unauthorised usurpation of public lands in J&K.

  • The report alleged that the reduction in prices of the land was done arbitrarily and in a manner that benefited politicians and influential people.
  • It also flagged the meagre amount of revenue collected by the government (Rs.76.46 crore), when compared to the touted Rs.25,000 crores.
  • In 2015, the state vigilance organisation filed FIRs against some people who amassed vast quantities of land under the scheme but had failed to satisfy the eligibility criteria.
    • A prominent case came to be known as the Gulmarg land scam, in which several top bureaucrats are accused of illegally transferring land of the Gulmarg Development Authority to private parties.
  • In October 2018, the then Governor of J&K, Satya Pal Malik repealed the Act prospectively, which meant that all pending allotments were cancelled. And, people who were already given the allotments were allowed to retain them.
  • In 2019, Malik ordered a probe by the state Anti-Corruption Bureau into all dealings under the Roshni Scheme.
  • After this, a petition was filed in the High Court that sought the transfer of the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
  • Certain groups were against the Act because they alleged that it was a ploy to bring around a demographic change in the Jammu region.

High Court Ruling

  • The High Court, in October 2020, ruled the Act as unconstitutional, illegal and unsustainable.
  • The HC held all allotments made under the Roshni Act as void ab initio.
  • It also asked the CBI to probe into the irregularities committed under the Act and directed the government to publicise the names of the prominent people that benefited under the Act.
  • As per this order, the J&K government decided to declare all the actions taken under the Act to be ‘null and void’ and to retrieve the land that was given by six months.
  • It also made public the names of the influential people who were allotted land under the Act.

Roshni Act – Latest News

However, in a U-turn of sorts, the J&K government, in a review petition, has pleaded for modifications to the HC judgement of Oct 2020.

  • The petition says that declaring all allotments null and void would cause a lot of common people to suffer unintentionally.
  • It argues that landless cultivators and individuals who are living in small dwelling areas could not be clubbed with rich and wealthy land grabbers.
  • According to the government, this is to allow the CBI to focus its investigation on ‘powerful and influential people who defrauded the state’.

 

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