SVO and Roshni

The State Vigilance Organisation had directed its Superintendents of Police (SPs) to crack cases pertaining to the Roshni scam with swift investigations. In their turn, the officers have sought revenue records from the offices of the District Development Commissioners concerned as part of a purportedly detailed probe to fix criminal culpability of the public servants involved, and the beneficiaries of land transfers executed under the scheme. This was around two months ago. And there the matter rests.

The scam surfaced after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India indicted IAS officers in J&K for their “involvement” in irregularities in what had been billed as a mega-scheme to generate mega-bucks for the state’s coffers. In its report, the GAG had also slammed the officers for “non-cooperation” with auditors.

Proceeds from the scheme, once estimated to fetch the state Rs 25, 000 crore, have not crossed even the Rs 80 crore mark after more than 12 years. As against a cost of Rs 317.14 crore approved for the 3.48 lakh kanals of land where occupants have been granted ownership rights, the scheme has fetched a mere Rs 76.45 crore. In March 2010, the Government had informed the Assembly that the figure stood at Rs 72 crore for the total land decided under Roshni, out of which 3.40 lakh kanals fell in agricultural category, 6,949 kanals in the residential category, and 990 kanals in the commercial category. The remaining 130 kanals were used for construction of institutions, the government said.

The J and K Government had passed the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, also named Roshni Act, in 2001 to generate Rs 25,000 crore by vesting ownership rights over Nazool land. The aim was to sell state-owned land at low rates to illegal occupants. But after over a decade, even senior revenue officers feel compelled to admit that the scheme had turned out to be the biggest land fraud in Jammu and Kashmir. The state has not only lost prized land, but also revised and whittled down the scheme’s expected returns to a meager Rs 6,000 crore.

Under the scheme, “authorized occupants” owning residential structures on state or nazool land of up to 2 kanals were required to pay only 25 percent of its value, while such occupants on plots of up to 10 kanals were supposed to pay 40 per cent of the going rate. For “authorized overstayed” and unauthorized occupants, the rates were fixed at 35 per cent and 50 per cent of the value of the land respectively. In the commercial category, authorized, authorized overstayed and unauthorized occupants were supposed to pay 30 percent, 45 percent and 60 percent of the value of the land respectively. In case of institutions – educational/ religious/charitable/social/trusts/societies – and political parties, the rates had been fixed at 15 per cent and 25 per cent of the market value respectively.

But the blow to the Roshni scheme was dealt in February 2007 when the then government reintroduced it the legislature, fixing a token amount of Rs 100 for up to 100 kanals of agricultural land. This is a case where authorities need to show seriousness in bringing the culprits to justice.