Dark deeds under ‘Roshni’
M. M. Khajooria
These days the ‘Roshni Act’ is the star attraction in the public domain. Everybody who is anybody had hazarded comments. Vast majority of these were deeply coloured by political prejudices or personal animosity. There was scant regard for facts, motivation of major players and implications for what they did or omitted to do.
The issue was undoubtedly of great public import. It was therefore imperative that historical back ground, intent of persons in power and the implications of their legislative and administrative initiatives were clearly understood. In the absence of these fundamentals the ongoing debate would remain an exercise in ‘Tu Tu’ Mein Mein’ couched in language that is best avoided in decent public discourse.
I have had an opportunity to conduct research on the controversial Act in all its manifestations and consider it my duty to share the fruits of my exertions with my fellow countrymen. This may assist them in formulating an informed and enlightened response to the Act its ingredients and various interpretations.
In the feudal Era ‘Jagirs’ and ‘Murabas’ ( chunks of land) were granted to the minor royalty, courtiers and senior civil and military officers for loyalty, meritorious services to the
Ruler at royal pleasure. In principle, all land in the domain was owned by the ruler. Land grants were also made in favour of Temples, mosques and other places of worship or Charitable Trusts like Dharamarth Trust floated by Maharaja Ranbir Singh.
These were either outright grants or leases for a fixed period. The State reserved the right to resume land on termination of lease period or renew the lease for specified period, as it pleased. However, leases in favour of those still enjoying patronage were renewed in routine. Rest were decided on merit on case to case basis strictly in accordance with law. Notices would be issued and served well in time and cases processed and decided expeditiously.
It may be mentioned here that under Maharaja Hari Singh’s regime there was zero tolerance for corruption. The standard of integrity in services was by and large maintained during the first tenure of Sheikh Mohd Abdullah as the Prime Minister of the erstwhile state. Thereafter sprouted a new and expanded crop of political royalty and flocks of their not so scrupulous henchmen. What we witness today is the cumulative effect of politico-administrative waywardness, moral decline and institutionalised corrupt practices of varying degrees that thrived and were perfected by their practitioners over the decades.
J&K Nazool Department officials who dealt with leases of Nazool land were known to enjoy an intimate and mutually beneficial equation with lease-holders. They had devised a near perfect mechanism to go around and bend the rules to serve the interests of Lease-holder. It was cranked into action as dates of expiry of leases approached. The lease-holder concerned quickly got in touch with the Nazool official responsible or serving the notice of eviction to strike the preliminary deal. With it, the case moved step by step at a leisurely pace. Neither of the parties was thereafter in a hurry. I happened to get the picture from a junior field officer of the Nazool department during the course of an inquiry into charges of corrupt practices levelled against a former Prime Minister. When pressed, he disclosed that they were mere tools and minions in a game, in which politicians and number of top bureaucrats were the real and major players. “Sir, they have complete list of prime properties on lease as well as all relevant information including dates of expiry. They prefer to strike deals directly with lease-holders over the heads of department officers,” he moaned. Given this knowledge, it should not be difficult to read between the lines in The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to The Occupants) Act and gain insight into its many ‘Avtars’. It would also help in deciphering the hidden agenda that prompted number of amendments to the Act as well as the framing of ‘scandalous’ Roshni Rules.
The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly enacted Act No. XII of 2001 in the Fifty-second Year of the Republic of India which received the assent of the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir on 9th November, 2001. It was notified in Government Gazette dated 13th November, 2001. The declared objective of the act was ‘to provide for vesting of ownership rights to occupants of State Land for purposes of generating funds to finance Power Projects in the State.’ The legislation was mired in a fierce controversy from the very first day the bill was introduced in the state assembly. The motive behind the move was suspect. The mild critics called it ill-conceived and irresponsible. Those on the extreme fringe dubbed it as unethical, intended to benefit politicians, senior bureaucrats and sharing booty with the all powerful land mafia with which they allegedly had cosy relations. Another school of thought contended that the political leadership having lost the will and forfeited the authority to eject the land grabbers and criminals hit upon this ‘brilliant idea’ to resolve the impasse once and for all to the benefit of all concerned and in the bargain raise funds for financing power generation projects. Either ways, the erstwhile state was the loser. Its authority and prestige devalued, it opted for a bargain that favoured criminals, rich and mighty manipulator. The act, legalised surrender before the vested interests at the cost of public good. The criminals, trespassers, Mafias and violators of rules instead of being proceeded against under law were rewarded thereby making a mockery of the rule of law. The criticism though harsh was not without merit.
The beneficiaries of the legislation, broadly fell in following categories:
(a) Those in lawful possession of land prices whereof had sky rocketed and were ever escalation and for which ridiculously low rent was being charged.
(b) Lease-holders whose lease had expired but continued to retain possession with the connivance of authorities.
C) size holdings illegally occupied by committing the offence of trespass either in respect of the entire holding or part whereof was legally allotted and part trespassed upon.
Huge tracks of land forcibly and illegally grabbed by land mafias, government officials and politicians.
Most occupants falling in categories (a) and (b) above were rich and powerful. The rich were willing to make mutually beneficial ‘accommodation.’ The powerful were fraternity-politicians and bureaucrats.
Category comprised of favoured clans or the crucial vote bank.