Irregularities and corruption by influential leaders runs deeper that envisaged in Jammu and Kashmir. After Farooq Abdullah, the name of Mehbooba Mufti led Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party has recently come up as a beneficiary of the Roshni Act. Grossly misappropriating government land and forests, it seems that the entire state machinery has been building personal assets at the cost of public resources.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act 2001), also known as Roshni Act, was introduced by the Farooq Abdullah government. The act granted legal ownership rights to those who had occupied government land in Jammu and Kashmir across several decades, on the payment of a minimal fee. As a result of this, hundreds of acres of forest and state land were illegally transferred to influential politicians, bureaucrats, government officials, and businessmen.
After the order of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on October 9, the administration has released a list of beneficiaries who had usurped public land under the Roshni Act.
In a major development, the name of Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party has come up. According to the administration, the PDP office is situated on encroached state land in Sanjuan in Jammu. Three kanals of land was grabbed for this reason. The list also mentions PDP leader Talib Hussain, who has even been accused of usurping two kanals of state land. This is over and above the previously released name of PDP leader Haseeb Drabu and three of his relatives.
The list of beneficiaries previously included Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, along with other National Conference, PDP, and Congress leaders. The investigations revealed that the Abdullahs had encroached around 4 kanals of state and forest land for residential purposes.
“The market value of encroached land is around Rs. 10 crore going by prevent land evaluation,” a Jammu and Kashmir official said.
Commenting on the irregularity, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “In 1998, Farooq Abdullah had purchased 3 kanals of land but he encroached upon 7 kanals of land which were double the size of the purchase.”
Over and above this, two offices of National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir are also situated on encroached land. Sher-e-Kashmir Bhawan of NC in Jammu has 3 kanal and 16 marla of land and the party got the same size of land in Srinagar in the name of Nawai-Subah Trust. Both the pieces of land were regularised under the Roshni Act. Farooq Abdullah’s sister, Suraiya Mattoo, is also named in the list of alleged illegal beneficiaries.
These claims have been fervently denied by National Conference, stating they are “completely false, being spread with a malicious intent”. However, with the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ordering a CBI probe and investigations into the matter will soon reveal the truth.
Prima facie, there seems to be little truth to NC’s claims as it is a known fact how influential politicians have been benefitting from the Roshni Act over the course of many decades. Even though the cut-off date for regularising unauthorised land was set as 1990, the greed of successive governments under Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad pushed the cut-off date to 2007. The quantum of scam is allegedly pegged at Rs 25,000 crore. Even after regularising over 75,000 acres of land in Jammu and Kashmir, the government managed to raise only Rs 76 crore from the original target of Rs 25,000 crore.
If the accusations come out to be true, it could bring shame to our democracy that such a scam of this magnitude was happening right under everyone’s noses, and would have carried on if the special status of Jammu and Kashmir had not been removed. The gross misappropriation of public resources for vested interests of a few influential leaders is something the people cannot ignore. No matter how influential the leader is, their crimes should be treated as such and all the houses and the offices made on illegal land need to be demolished for the sake of the commoners.