About ROSHNI ACT Scam in J and K

View of Sidhraa area, October 2014
  • Author tells about the Roshni Act Scam in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court announced its order on the Roshni Act on Friday October 9, 2020. It declared the Roshni Act unconstitutional, all allotments void and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was to take over the probe of the 25,000 cr scam. 5


Days later, ie on the following Sunday respected leader Farooq Abdullah said, “He wished that with China’s support, Article 370 of the Constitution, which conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir, will be restored.” Source


The indictment of successive governments in the Roshni Act Scam was forgotten.  Instead focus was on Abdullah’s statement on restoration of Art 370 albeit with Chinese support. 


But what is the Roshni Act?

According to an Indian Express report, “The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, or the Roshni Act, was enacted by the Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference government and came into effect on March 1, 2002. However, it was amended by successive Mufti Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad governments in 2004 and 2007.” 4


The Act was to grant ownership rights to the ‘authorised occupants of specified land.’ 


Since the state was suffering from power shortage and scarcity of resources it found an innovative way of raising resources (to set up hydroelectric power plants) ie via the Roshni Act. It hoped to raise app Rs 25,000 crs.  


According to an Outlook India report, “The objective of the Roshini Act was to generate funds to finance power projects in the state by granting ownership on state lands at market value to such permanent residents (natural persons or companies, fulfilling conditions under governing law) of the state of JK, who were authorised occupants (lease/grant holders) or unauthorised occupants of state lands on a particular date and public auction of vacant state lands.”3


The same report states, “The government had estimated (November, 2006) that total state land was 1,25,03,973 kanals of which 20,64,972 kanals with estimated value Rs 25,448 crore was under encroachment.” 3

A Indian Express report says that, “In March 2006, the government estimated the total state land at 1,25,03,973 kanals, of which 20,64,972 kanals, valued at Rs 25,448 crore, was under encroachment.” 4


Both the above reports say that state land worth app Rs 25,000 crs was under encroachment. Read on.


Ownership of land could be given only if the occupants were permanent residents of J&K - natural persons or companies - fulfilling conditions under governing law. To know who is a permanent resident read Here

Malwa in M.P. is a great place to visit. 

Why is it called Roshni Act? 

J&K was under cover of darkness (less electricity) for a variety of reasons. Since the aim of the Act was raising resources for augmenting the state’s power generation capacity, through commissioning of new hydroelectric power projects, it was meant to bring light or roshni hence the name Roshni Act. 


Note that -

As per the Constitution of J&K, any legislation concerning rights of permanent residents of the state could be passed only with 2/3rd majority in both houses of the legislature. However, a law was passed by ‘voice vote’ to sell encroached government lands.  


Initially 1990 was set as the cut off for encroachment on the state land. The government’s target was to earn Rs 25k crore by transferring app 20 lakh kanal of state land to existing occupants against payment at market rates.


The original Act was subsequently amended twice in 2004 & 2007 without obtaining 2/3rd majority as stated above.


Only subsequently it was realized, as events unfolded, that another agenda was to change the demography of Jammu.  “The then J&K governor Satya Pal Malik scrapped it in November 2018.” 6


While the original Act entitled only those under unauthorized occupation for a prolonged period before the passing of the Act, subsequent amendments diluted it and moved to unauthorized occupation on a cut-off date initially of 2004 by the respected and late Mufti Mohammad Syed and later of 2007 by Ghulam Nabi Azad. “The government had notified rules on 25 August, 2005, and later amended on November 23, 2006 and March 5, 2007.” 3


Note this report in KashmirLife, “People in authorised or unauthorised possession of state land from January 1, 1990 were eligible to avail the scheme and get ownership after paying at market rates.” 7  

The same report states that, “In November 2005 Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as the chief minister. Exactly a year after assuming office, Azad issued a circular that marked the beginning of undoing Roshni. Under the new rules his ‘kitchen cabinet’ framed, encroachers owning residential structures on state or Nazool land would have to pay only 25 percent of the market price. For commercial areas they will have to deposit 30 percent and for agricultural land it was 15 percent.” 7


Amendments made in quick succession allowed many to encroach upon prime property and have it regularised. When any land owner comes out with a scheme to regularise encroachment it is only natural for encroachers to occupy more land and get it regularised.   


“Roshni’s fate was sealed on February 9, 2007 when Azad reintroduced the scheme in legislature as a “revolutionary step” after Sheikh Abdullah’s historic and path-breaking land-to-tiller settlement. The amended law that earlier sought barely ten percent of the costs from the encroachers now gave them free. They would have to pay a nominal fee of Rs. 100 per kanal for getting mutation in their favour in the revenue records.” 7


It was hoped that this move would be as historic as the late Sheikh Abdullah’s land to tiller agreement. 


What was the purpose of introducing Roshni Act?

Original intent was to raise resources for power generation capacity in the state through commissioning of hydroelectric power projects.


The reality is that many got land at less than market rates. It was also alleged to be a deliberate attempt by the government to change the demographics of Jammu. The Bhatindi, Sunjuwan (close to military cantonment) areas near Jammu is also where land was allotted to those from the Valley.


According to an Indian Express report, “According to CAG, among the beneficiaries of the illegal and irregular deals under the Act were the National Conference’s Nawai Subah Trust and the Congress’s Khidmat Trust. While 7 kanal, 15 marlas and 84 sq ft of land were transferred to Khidmat Trust, 3 kanal and 16 marlas were given to Nawai Subah at Zero Bridge in Srinagar. 4


This land, that was under commercial use, was transferred to the two trusts at concessional rate applicable to land under institutional use. The statutory committee under the Act fixed market rate of the land at Rs 1.10 crore per kanal in case of the Khidmat Trust and Rs 1.20 crore per kanal in the case of the Nawai Subah Trust. Both were given 85 per cent rebate, with land valued at Rs 13.10 crore transferred for only Rs 1.97 crore. This amount too was not recovered, with only Rs 1.47 crore collected so far.” 4


Wonder why the media and BJP are not questioning the NC and Congress on these deals.


Would the Roshni Act Scam have taken place in another state or did J&K have impunity because of the new defunct Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution.  

There is more to India than the Taj-East.

Why is it a scam?

Abdul Rahim Rather who had originally conceived the scheme again became the Finance Minister of the state. During a discussion in state assembly at Jammu in 2010, Abdul Rather admitted that free ownership rights were conferred on vast chunk of land so the targeted revenue could not be generated.


In November 2005 Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as the chief minister. Exactly a year after assuming office, Azad issued a circular that marked the beginning of undoing Roshni. Under the new rules, from market price the rates were brought down to certain percentages of the market price depending upon the category of encroached land namely residential, commercial and agricultural. For political parties and charitable institutions rate was fixed at 25 percent of the market value.


According to a report in The Hindu, “Among other things, the auditors have found that most of the conditions had been violated in the identification and verification of the land. Revenue entries, including the fundamental Girdhawari extracts, have been criminally compromised. Change of land use and category has been ignored for drastically reducing the prices. Consequently, the sale proceeds in the past 11 years have been a paltry Rs. 76 crore. Even the land held by the government departments, like the Jammu Development Authority, which were outside the purview of the Roshni Act, have been founded transferred to unauthorised occupants. Stamp duty worth hundreds of crores has been dispensed with in almost all cases.” 1


According to a report in India Today, “Dr Pandey said the Roshni Act was systematically diluted and damaged by making deficient rules with having very weak committees to implement it and giving rebates and giving agricultural land free of cost which was against the Act. He said our conclusion is that the govt acted beyond the authority given by the Act and violated it.” He also admitted the fact the substantial deviations in the Act were made during the term of Ghulam Nabi Azad in office in 2007. He elaborated in 2007 the amendments which were done were all irregular and were against the Act.” 2

According to a report in Outlook India, "The government had estimated (November, 2006) that total state land was 1,25,03,973 kanals of which 20,64,972 kanals with estimated value Rs 25,448 crore was under encroachment.”3

“The CAG, however, observed that only Rs 76.24 crore (24 per cent) reportedly realized against a demand of Rs 317.54 crore raised by the end of March, 2013 against the actual transfer of 3,48,160 kanals land in the state.” 3


“However, the rules provided for transfers of all agricultural lands to be free of cost, which is beyond the scope, objectives and mandatory provisions of the Act. Hence, all transfers of agricultural lands under the Act become illegal, it said. The report said that a major portion (3,40,091 kanals) has been categorised as 'agricultural' and hence transferred free of cost in violation of this section of the Act.” CAG report of March 31 2013. 3


“Roshni Act is a special type of legislation concerning rights of permanent residents of the state requiring 2/3rd majority of total membership of each House of the Legislature under Article 9(b) of the Constitution of J&K. The Act provided that the rules were not required to be approved by the Legislature” CAG report said. 3


Target Rs 25,000 crs, collected Rs 76 crs. Something has to be horribly wrong with the scheme and its implementation.


According to a Kashmir Observer report, “Out of the app 20.64 lakh kanals, 3,40,091 categorised as agricultural land, hence transferred free of cost.” 5


Unconfirmed reports state that in many cases the price of land the price of land was not recovered despite lapse of allowed period of 2 years. Only a CBI investigation will tell if there is any truth in these reports.   


Thus, the whole exercise only abetted further encroachments. Deficient rules and bad implementation made things easier for encroachers.  


All these irregularities were brought out in public domain through the report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).  CAG in its report had complained of non-cooperation by the state government officials and its machinery. Point to note is that Audit could check only a limited number of cases as all records were not provided.

The findings of the CAG report were forwarded to the State Vigilance Organisation (SAC) by the Principal Accountant General (Audit) for investigations. A local advocate from Jammu also approached the High Court in 2014 for court – monitored investigations into the transfer of land under the Act. 


The J&K High Court, in 2018, ordered an end to sale, purchase or any other transaction in respect of land acquired under the Roshni Scheme. The Act of 2001 was finally repealed a few weeks later by the State Administrative Council in November 2018 without clarifying the status of land which already stood sold and muted. Petitioners once again knocked the doors of the High Court by filing fresh Public Interest Litigations (PIL).


In October 2020 the High Court, with the Honourable Chief Justice in chair, gave its historic judgement which can be considered a major milestone in the entire episode of unbridled loot of the state property by its own custodians.


The High Court has ordered a court-monitored time bound CBI enquiry concurring with the petitioners that Roshni scheme worked to facilitate illegal vesting of state lands. The Court also ordered to complete identities of all influential persons (including ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, businessmen etc) their relatives or persons holding benami for them, who have derived benefit under the Act and/or occupy State lands.


The people of India would observe how the CBI handles this case. After all it involves the high and mighty of Jammu and Kashmir.


With the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A hopefully the CBI shall be empowered to do its job and make names of encroachers public.


To read J&K High Court Order of 9.10.2020 click on PDF


Author is a political commentator, columnist, strategic and security analyst. The views expressed in the article are personal.


References and Also read

1. CAG indicts IAS officers in Roshni Scam - HINDU

2. 25,000 crore Roshni Scam India Today

3. CAG Finds Irregularities in Land Transfer Under J&K Roshni Act – Outlook India

4. CAG sees biggest ever land scam in J&K – Indian Express 

5. J&K HC declares all allotments void, asks for CBI probe – Kashmir Observer

6. J&K HC orders CBI probe in Roshni land scam – Hindustan Times

7. Roshi Racket darkens energy futures – Kashmir Life. It has a table that District wise gives Quantum of Land approved in kanals, Cost of land approved in crs, Amount realized in crs and Rate per kanal. Figures for Jammu district are 42,917, 174.19 crs, 15.77 crs and Rs 40,587. Figures for Srinagar district are 492,101.87 crs, 50.62 crs and Rs 20.70 lakh.   


CAG Jammu and Kashmir Report 2 2014 – when searched online (October 23, 2020 at 1 pm) the report was not available. 


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