Former chief minister and Lok Sabha member Farooq Abdullah.(HT photo)
Former chief minister and Lok Sabha member Farooq Abdullah.(HT photo)

Abdullahs named in J&K land encroachment list

Abdullah, 83, hit back with allegations of political vendetta ahead of elections to district development councils in Jammu & Kashmir. In a clear reference to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, the National Conference (NC) chief said: “Since elections are around the corner, I think they will dig the graves of others.”
By Ravi Krishnan Khajuria | Hindustan Times, Jammu
UPDATED ON NOV 25, 2020 02:12 AM IST

The Jammu & Kashmir administration on Tuesday made public a voluminous list of beneficiaries of a two-decade-old law under which they allegedly gained proprietary rights to land they had illegally occupied, as well as encroachers on vast swathes of state land, naming former chief minister and Lok Sabha member Farooq Abdullah among the latter.

A total of 1787 beneficiaries including nine encroachers of state land from Jammu district alone have so far been put up on the government website http://divcomjammu.gov.in/# in line with a high court directive , showing Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah as having encroached on seven kanals and seven marlas of state land (once forest land), in Bahu tehsil, village Sunjwan, in Jammu city.

The names of people, including other politicians, businessmen and civil servants figured on the lists. They included former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) minister Haseeb Drabu and family, prominent hotelier Mushtaq Chaya, former bureaucrat Mohammad Shafi Pandit and his wife Nighat Pandit, and former legislator Satpal Lakhotra.

Abdullah, 83, hit back with allegations of political vendetta ahead of elections to district development councils in Jammu & Kashmir. In a clear reference to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, the National Conference (NC) chief said: “Since elections are around the corner, I think they will dig the graves of others.”

Kamal hai in logon ka (The wonder of these people). They want us to give in, but why should we?. Don’t people in Sunjwan have a right to live . Isn’t the army brigade in Sunjwan on forest land?. It is nothing but purely political vendetta,” he said.

Abdullah said he had not purchased either the land in Jammu or house in Srinagar under the Jammu & Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants), popularly known as the Roshni Act, which the high court has ruled was unconstitutional and unsustainable.

He said: “It is only propaganda against us. I just can’t understand what they want to do? Sunjwan colony was not raised by me.. it was raised long back. Don’t we have the right to live?”

Abdullah did concede that NC’s party headquarters in Raipur village in Jammu south, measuring three kanals and 16 marlas, had been regularised under the Roshni Act at a price of Rs 53,66,501. “We purchased the land under Roshni scheme and we didn’t get any concession like others announced after us. No favours were done to us,” he said.

In New Delhi, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashed out at political leaders including Abdullah.

“There was conscious land loot by powerful people of J&K who were getting benefits under the Roshni Act, which was declared unconstitutional by the J&K high court,” Prasad told reporters. “It is very unfortunate that key leaders of Jammu & Kashmir including Farooq Abdullah used their influence and power for land grabbing and appropriated government land.”

The law, popularly referred to as Roshni Act, was passed in 2001 to provide ownership of state land to people who were occupying it after the law was introduced in the budget speech of the previous year by then finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather of the NC. The proceeds of the sales were meant to help in the electrification of the state. In 2005, the PDP government-led by Mufti Mohammed Syed relaxed the cut-off year for the occupants to have the land regularised to 2004. T he Congress government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2007 relaxed the cut-off year to 2007. The original cut-off year had been 1990.

A 2014 Comptroller and Auditor General report found that only 76 crore had been realised from the transfer of encroached lands between 2007 and 2013 against the 25,000 crore target.

In November 2018, then governor Satya Pal Malik cancelled the Act, saying people in positions of power and those with financial resources including bureaucrats, government officials, ministers, legislators, police personnel and businesspersons have “influenced the completely illegal vesting of state land”.

A senior official in the Jammu and Kashmir administration said on condition of anonymity:”The working of the Roshni Act was effected arbitrarily, dishonestly and illegally. There exist glaring instances of state lands being usurped.”

The Central Bureau of Investigation registered cases after the high court last month ordered the federal agency to probe the allocation of land under the law it ruled was unconstitutional and unsustainable. The court also sought a list of beneficiaries.

Revenue department officials have been cancelling mutation orders under the Act in line with a high court order.

“Consequently, a list of 15,000 beneficiaries is being uploaded on the official and the National Informatics Centre website after due step-by-step vetting,” said an official in the Jammu and Kashmir administration.

Drabu, a former finance minister, rubbished the allegation of wrongdoing, saying his grandfather had bought the land in question in 1956 in the name of his mother, who divided it among her children after extending its lease.

“...the land was regularised purely as per the government’s Roshni Act. Where is the scam and what rubbish is this?” asked Drabu, adding that the government should at least make a distinction between a leaseholder and a land grabber.

Former director general of police SP Vaid defended the government’s action, noting it was in line with the high court order. “Some irregularities must have been committed and that’s why LG’s {lieutenant-general’s) government is implementing the high court order. It is perfectly a legal process and it should be taken to its logical conclusion,” he said.

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