Probe J&K’s biggest ever land scam

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In 2001, J&K Assembly enacted the Roshni Act to generate Rs 25000 crore to fund infrastructure projects by vesting ownership rights to the occupants of 4.5 lakh acres of state land.  But fifteen years on, the government revenue from the scheme is a measly Rs 78.74 crore from the sale of around 3.48 lakh kanals causing the Speaker Kavinder Gupta to hold an enquiry into the reported bunglings into the scheme. 

“I don’t understand why government was not revealing the complete data. I too had asked some questions,” Speaker Gupta told the house, “I direct the government to hold an immediate enquiry into the Roshni Scheme”.

Members of the PDP, BJP  and the opposition National Conference also demanded an enquiry. They termed the scheme the “biggest land scam”. Following this the revenue minister Syed Basharat Bukhari  said the government was “serious about looking into the matter and reviewing the Roshni Act”.

 This is not the first time that the Roshni scheme has shocked people by the disproportionate scale of the alleged irregularities which have taken place. Earlier in 2014, state’s then Principal Accountant General Subhash Chander Pandey called  the scheme the “biggest-ever land scam” in the state. But the government has done nothing. 

It has turned out that a scheme which was grandiloquently billed as a revolutionary move on the pattern of 1950 J&K land reforms Act which saw the redistribution of around 4.5 lakh acres of land held by around 9000 land owners among the cultivating  peasants may have been dubiously devised to benefit the rich and influential people. With government withholding the comprehensive list of the beneficiaries under the scheme and the nature of the lands given away to them for peanuts, it is difficult to comprehend the egregious nature of the scam. Roshni has become a metaphor for the endemic corruption in India’s most troubled state. In fact, the quantum of corruption under the scheme was estimated by Pandey to be far higher than Rs 25000 crore. The actual revenue loss, he said, could be much higher considering the fact that land rates have steeply risen since the time scheme was enacted.   

Some of the prominent beneficiaries in Srinagar  include the headquarters of the Congress and National Conference. Popularly known as Khidmat and Nawai Subah Trust respectively  and occupying a piece of prime real estate in the heart of Srinagar, they cost a fortune. 

Some of the other beneficiaries include the former speaker of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Malik who paid Rs 20,36,858 to own the premium property at Samander Bagh in the city. K K Amla, a former member of the J&K Legislative Council paid Rs 2,48,28,024 to own the property along Srinagar’s posh Residency Road  Around 20 IAS and Kashmir Administrative Service officers are under a cloud for the alleged massive irregularities in the implementation of the scheme. 

However, one thing is clear. There is little to retrieve here for the government. A large chunk of the land – around 3.48 lakh kanals – has already been disposed off under the scheme.  What is appalling is that there is no credible explanation for this massive loss.  The revenue realization is a little above Rs 78 crore.  Where has the rest of money gone? And if this is the status of a small portion of land being given away under the scheme, how will government dispose of the rest. One way to make sense of the dubiously complex operation of the scheme is for the government  to make public the identity of all the people who have received ownership of the land and the payment they have made.  This will instantly bring to light the corrupt practices, if any, being perpetrated under the garb of the scheme. But will government do that? Unlikely. Considering that the government has yet to order an enquiry into the scheme, there is little hope that the truth will ever be known. 

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