Saturday, April 18, 2009

Roshni or Darkness

Roshni, The Biggest Ever Land Scandal?
From Sheikh’s land-to-tiller to Azad’s Raj Tilak


Srinagar, Apr 15: Though the Ghulam Nabi Azad led coalition government had compared Roshni (light) Act with the land reforms of Sheikh Abdullah, it is turning out to be the biggest ever land scandal of the State.
The Congress-PDP government had earlier claimed that Roshni scheme would generate Rs 25000 crores. Later it said Rs 6000 crores would be generated, however so far 1,77,395 kanals of State land has been given to the occupiers in Jammu and the State has realized only Rs 15.47 crores. In Kashmir division, 31,103 kanals have been given and the State has realized Rs 39.64 crores.
The then Leader of Opposition, present Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, had spoken against the amendments brought by Azad government in the Act conceived by him to generate money for utilizing State’s water resources. He had ridiculed Azad’s comparison of Roshni Act with the land reforms.
Sheikh, Rather had said, snatched land from land-grabbers and gave that to tillers free of cost. “Here you are giving property rights to land-grabbers who have occupied Nazool land in cities and Khalisa land in villages,” he had said. “Only rich, elite and land-grabbers had the audacity to grab the State land and now have a benevolent government who gave them its rights,” Rather had said. He had cautioned that the State wouldn’t get any money out of the amendments. His fears proved right.
On October 17, 1950, Sheikh Abdullah declared policy of liquidating the big landed estates and transferring land to tiller by enacting Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, the land of these people was reduced to only 182 kanals.
Former editor of the Asian Age, M.J Akbar, describes the reforms in these words. “The century of Dogra rule has seen usurpation of nearly all the land in the valley by ruling class, with the result most of the 2,200,000 acres of cultivable Kashmiri land belonged to either to the Maharaja directly or to his Jagirdars and small class of landlords called Chakdars.” To put it more starkly, he says “the owners were Jammu Hindus, the tillers Kashmiri Muslims.”

Historian and politician Muhammad Yousuf Taing says till the land to tiller law of 1950 came into force, even the daughters of poor peasants were treated as part of the estate on which the landlords enjoyed absolute rights. He says the sweeping land reforms under the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act passed on July 13, 1950, changed the complexion of Kashmiri society. He said that Kashmiri Pandits who were close to tyrannical regime had not got any land outside the Kashmir valley.

In 1950 when the constituent assembly of the Jammu Kashmir was constituted, it had to decide four points including whether compensation should be given to those landlords who have lost their land through the land abolition act. On November 5, 1951 the then Revenue Minister Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg refused to give compensation to landlords.
He argued in the Constituent Assembly that the Maharaja Hari Singh on ascending the throne in 1924-25 issued a Royal Proclamation called the Raj Tilak Boon. On the basis of this declaration, Maharaja permitted the landlords to annex Village Common Lands (Shamilat) with their holdings. These Shamilat came into possession of landlords apart from cultivated land they already possessed. And with this the landholder who had 1000 kanals got further 1000 kanals of land grants on the basis of Raj Tilk Boon. And those who had 2000 kanals got 2000 kanals of Shamilat.
Beg told the Constituent Assembly that the deceit and frauds took place while these orders were operated so much that land of pity land holders were also grabbed by influential elements. In Kashmir 160,000 acres and in Jammu 310,000 acres were given away by Maharaja by Raj Tilak Boon.”
The land reforms empowered 87 per cent people in Jammu and Kashmir State. Landlords were given right over only 180 kanals of land and later when Agrarian Reforms Act was enacted, it was slashed to 100 kanals,” he said.

The widow of Dewan Jawalla Sahai, who had given substantial money to Maharaja Gulab Singh when he purchased Jammu & Kashmir from the British for Rs 75 lakhs, owned 120,000 kanals of land in south Kashmir. In Kulgam Tehsil it was difficult for people to bury their dead as almost all land had proprietorship of the widow.

From Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 100 for 100 kanals

The National Conference government had conceived the Roshni Act to generate Rs 25000 crore for development of power projects in the state sector of Jammu and Kashmir. Senior officials in the Power Development Corporation said that when National Conference government started Baglihar project it had no money. The then chief minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, pursued the policy of “beg, borrow or steal” to realize the objective.
Realizing money constraints to exploit water resources, the then Finance minister, Abdul Rahim Rather, came up with the idea of Roshni Act. It took five years for the government to come up with the legislation. Till then it had lost seven power projects to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation including Pakaldul. The projects would now be developed by Chenab Projects Ltd, a joint venture company of NHPC and the JKSPDC.
The NC government had got the concurrence of internationally reputed agencies for funding. The agencies had given detailed project reports to JKSPDC and had agreed to provide 85 per cent financial assistance to the state government in developing these projects. However the centre government sabotaged it by not giving counter guarantees to the State Government forcing the State to hand over seven projects to the NHPC, a government of India corporation.
In 2001, Abdul Rahim Rather came up with the legislation to create separate power fund for the state. The state government presuming it would generate Rs 25000 crore enacted the law, the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership Rights to the Occupants) Act 2001.
The Act was named as Roshni Act so that whatsoever revenue was generated by it, it will be used in power sector. The government had kept January 1990 as cut-of date and described as state land the land as “illegally occupied” after 1990.
According to the law any occupant of the state land shall apply to the territorial Tehsildar for having such land vested / transferred to him under the provisions of the Act.

The concerned Tehsildar after holding an enquiry and verifying the contents of application would send a report to District Commissioner of the area with his recommendations. The District Commissioner would subsequently make further enquiry and forward the application along with his report to the committee which is required to pass appropriate order for disposal of land and also determine the price to be deposited by the applicant (occupant) for vesting of such state land.

The provisions of the Act, shall however, not apply to such land as is earmarked for a specific purpose in any master plan etc. Soon the National Conference lost power and the PDP-led coalition took over. In May 2004, Muzaffer Hussain Baig framed the rules. In November 2005, the Azad government took over and brought amendments in the law marring the whole scheme. It fixed the cut of date as 2004. Azad didn’t stop there.
For residential use authorized occupants (where lease had been granted) were asked to pay 25 per cent of the total value for upto 2 kanals. In 3 to 10 kanals, 40 per cent and for more than 10 kanals full value of the land has to be paid or as determined by committee.
For authorized overstayed occupants (where lease has expired) 35 per cent of total value has to be paid for 2 kanals or as determined by committee. For 3 to 10 kanals, 50 per cent of the total value and for more than 10 kanals occupants either have to surrender beyond ten kanals or pay full value which will be determined by the committee.
For unauthorized occupants who are in possession of upto 2 kanals (where no lease has been granted or allotment made) price has been fixed 40 per cent of the total value. For 3 to 10 kanals, 50 per cent of the total cost has been fixed.
In commercial area authorized occupants (where lease has not expired) will have to pay 30 per cent of the total value. For authorized over stayed occupants (where lease has expired) they will have to pay 45 per cent of the total value. And for unauthorized occupants (where no lease was granted) 60 per cent of the total value has been fixed.
The land which has been used for, what government says, institutional use like educational, religious, charitable, social institution and political parties recognized by election commission of India, rate list is: An authorized occupant (where lease has not expired), price has been fixed 15 per cent of total value. For authorized overstayed occupants (where lease has expired) 25 per cent has been fixed and for unauthorized occupants (where no lease has been granted) it is 50 per cent of total value.
The final blow was agriculture land. For agriculture land upto 100 kanals token money of Rs 100 has to be paid for maintenance of records. An authorized occupant (where lease has not expired), price has been fixed 15 per cent of total value. For authorized overstayed occupants (where lease has expired) 25 per cent has been fixed and for unauthorized occupants (where no lease has been granted) it is 50 per cent of total value.
Land Mafia
With the government of Jammu and Kashmir vesting ownership rights of thousands of kanals of state land to illegal occupiers, it is gradually losing the land, considered to be the biggest asset.
Sources said there was no provision of compensation for land acquired for implementation of scores of centrally-sponsored schemes like construction of roads, health care units and construction of drinking water tanks across the state. “But now with no land available, the government has no money to provide compensation to acquire land,” said an official of Revenue Department. “The government could have easily bartered the land. Now in absence of money, it would face severe problems in implementing the schemes.”
Sources say the government claim that farming community got the benefit of the schemes is full of contradictions. On February 9, 2007, when Ghulam Nabi Azad introduced the scheme in the Assembly he described it as a “revolutionary step” and stated that the farmers would be empowered by the Act as thousands of kanals having market rate of Rs 15000 crores would go to farmers. The Government had claimed that it would benefit 19 lakh cultivators but the State has only 16 lakh cultivators and only 16 percent of them have occupied the state land, mostly in Jammu. In Jammu district, the committee headed by the divisional commissioner gave away ownership rights on 42914.18 kanals while in Srinagar on 429.61 kanals. Sources in the Revenue Department said that major revenue came from Srinagar and Jammu cities with Jammu realizing Rs 15.47 crores against 1.77 lakh kanals and Kashmir division Rs 39 crores against over 31000 kanals. Sources said the government has been lenient in Jammu district and most of the beneficiaries were land mafia, politicians and senior officials.
However the first ever case filed in Srinagar by the Vigilance Organisation for transfer of state land under Roshni Act is a classic example of how the revenue records have been fudged and the Act misused. Last month the VO filed cases against top officials of the Government for transferring State land under Roshni Act to the big businessmen in Gulmarg.
The VO sources describe vesting ownership rights of land in Gulmarg as violation of all laws and say Roshni Act doesn’t apply in Gulmarg. The vigilance case is based on the argument that the State land even under occupation can’t be transferred to the occupant in the areas specified by the government for some purpose and the areas which come under the Master Plan.
Gulmarg has a master plan of 1966. Sources in the vigilance said that some five to six applicants have paid Rs 10 crores to the State government for the transfer of the State land in Srinagar and Gulmarg. The revenue officials, sources said, interestingly have not followed the law but violated the law by transferring the title of that land to the accused under the Roshni Act which doesn’t come under the purview of the Act. “In Jammu district the fraud might be at bigger scale. This is tip of iceberg. The Revenue department has to answer many things,” sources in the VO said.
As many as 80,420 cases are pending under the Act and the Government has not fixed any final date for disposal of the held-up cases. However NC-led government is indecisive to take action. The Chief Minister Omer Abdullah agrees that there has been large scale illegal transfer under the Act. However he didn’t comment when asked whether government would turn down the 80,000 more applications pending with the Revenue Department.
Sources said under threat was the land that belongs to the departments including Forest, Tourism and Irrigation. There are thousands of kanals of land in Srinagar city that belongs to the Tourism Department and Srinagar Municipal Corporation. Fearing huge land grab under Roshni Act by land mafia in Srinagar, the SMC has this month written to the Revenue department that the land including Kah Charai, Nazool, Panchayat should be identified. Interestingly the SMC so far has not conducted any such survey.
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