The Act that sought to regularise unauthorised land might have sparked off a debate on the duty of a welfare state
Even as news of a new strain of the coronavirus emerges, there is another somewhat controversial subject that is making its way to the headlines: the
Roshni Act . Though intended to benefit the people of
Jammu and Kashmir , it has now gained ill repute. The enactment of the Roshni Act, its alleged misuse, the High Court’s decision, and the subsequent review petition is an example of how sometimes Acts fail to be implemented properly.
What is the Roshni Act?
Enacted in 2001, by the Farooq Abdullah
government , it sought to regularise unauthorised land. As per the Act, anybody who had occupied unauthorised land in J&K, could pay a certain fee, as decided by the government, and the land would be regularised.
The targeted proceeds —approximately `25,000 crores — were to be used for hydropower projects, thus bringing “roshni” (light) to the State.
In 2001, when the law was enacted, 1990 was set as the cut-off date for encroachment on State land. However, this date was revised under subsequent governments.
Under Section 8(b), the total land that could be so vested was initially restricted to 10 kanals; the limit was later revised to 100 kanals.
The Revenue Department reportedly made the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Rules, 2007 under Section 18 of the
Roshni Act without approval from the legislature. This fueled allegations that the changes were made to suit the elite.
As against the expected transfer of 20.46 lakh kanals of land, permission was accorded for 6.04 lakh kanals and only 3.48 lakh kanals of land were actually transferred. In 2014, the CAG noted that the
government had generated only `76 crores as opposed to the targeted `25,000 crores.
Beginning of the end
In 2018, J&K’s then Governor Satya Pal Malik repealed the act ‘prospectively’. In 2011, S. K. Bhalla, from Jammu, filed a PIL in the High Court, alleging ‘land grab’. Similarly, in 2014, Ankur Sharma, a law student, petitioned the court to direct a CBI probe on the encroachment of State land.
Subsequently, a Division Bench of the High Court comprising then Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal pronounced its judgment on 9 October 2020, declaring the challenged Act as, “unconstitutional, contrary to law and unsustainable”. It also directed a CBI probe.
Following the order, the J&K government decided to declare all the actions taken under the Act to be ‘null and void’ and to retrieve all the land. Most recently, however, the
J&K government has filed a review petition, pleading for modifications to the judgment. The petition says that declaring all allotments null and void would cause ‘unintentional’ suffering to a lot of common people and that landless cultivators and the poor could not be clubbed with rich and influential land grabbers.
The present issue raises a pertinent question: What is the duty of a welfare state? Is it to punish the wrong-doers or to save the innocent? Is it to continue with an ‘unconstitutional law’ or to risk ‘public backlash’?
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