Describing the damage done by the culprits as “shameless sacrilege” and “damage to national interest”, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has ordered the CBI to probe what may emerge as J&K’s biggest land scandal.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal asked the CBI director to appoint “teams of officers not below the ranks of superintendents of police” to conduct an “in depth inquiry” and register cases. The order was passed on Friday, but a copy of it was made available only on Sunday.
The high court has declared the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, famously known as the “Roshni Act”, as void ab initio.
The high court has “prima facie found culpability of government officials at the highest level enabling encroachment of public lands and permitting their illegal vesting in the hands of private owners”. It ordered the CBI to “investigate their culpability”.
The Act came into force in 2001under the then Farooq Abdullah-led government. All the land illegally handed over to “encroachers” by successive state governments till now shall be restored to the state government, the court said.
The Roshni Act was enacted to transfer the ownership rights of state land to its occupants, subject to the payment of a cost, as decided by the government. The then Farooq Abdullah-led government had set 1990 as the cut off for this. However, successive governments led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (2004) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (2007) introduced more amendments to the Act to the “benefit” of the illegal occupant of the land, the court said.
“We have not come across any such legislative action legitimising criminal activity at the cost of national interest with incalculable loss and damage to the public exchequer”
Under the “Roshni Act”, the government’s goal was to earn Rs 25,000 crore by transferring 20 lakh kanals of state land to existing occupants against the payment at market rates.
The court has come down heavily on the state authorities and vigilance officials for not only conniving in the “loot to own” policy but also for their “reluctance” in acting against encroachers.
The order, accessed by ET, reads “that these looters could motivate a legislation to facilitate their nefarious design, by itself speaks about their insidious and deep penetration into the corridors of power and authority; about the level and scale of their influence at all levels and suggests involvement of all those who mattered including in propounding and implementation of the policy”. It said: “We have not come across any such legislative state action legitimising criminal activity at the cost of national and public interest with incalculable loss and damage to the public exchequer and the environment, without any financial (or other) impact assessment”.