Jammu: The Supreme Court on Thursday refrained from examining the appeals related to Roshni Land scam till the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) High Court decides the review petition filed against its October 9 judgment on the scam.
The order was passed by a three-judge Bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose in a batch of appeals filed against the judgment of the High Court ordering a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the alleged scam.
The Supreme Court noted that the Union Territory of J&K and various beneficiaries under the Roshni Act have filed review petitions against the High Court judgment which is pending before the High Court. It, therefore, remarked that there cannot be parallel proceedings on the same subject matter.
“Subsequent to filing of this SLP, the review by Union Territory and other beneficiaries is listed on December 21 at the J&K High Court. Until and unless review petitions are decided we can’t do much. Let the review be decided by the High Court on December 21. The pendency of this case will not come in way of any of these petitioners approaching the J&K High Court in a review petition”.The supreme court said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union Territory assured that no coercive action will be taken against the appellants in the meanwhile.
Importantly, Mehta also said that the Union Territory in its review petition has drawn a distinction between encroachers and lawful leaseholders.
The Court, therefore, adjourned the case to be heard in the final week of January 2021.
The appellants before the Supreme Court are beneficiaries under the Roshni Act who are likely to lose their land after the High Court judgment ordered retrieval of land allotted under the Act.
The Roshni land scam was thrust into spotlight after a judgment was delivered by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court on October 9, 2020 ordering a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The judgment came nine years after the first petition in this regard was filed before the High Court in 2011 and multiple orders by High Court in this regard went unheeded by government authorities.
The genesis of the scam lies in the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 known popularly as ‘Roshni Act’.
The Act provided for vesting of government lands in encroachers subject to encroacher paying a price determined by the government.
As per the object set out in the act, the reason for giving the land to encroachers was that eviction of such lands had become very difficult if not impossible because of the procedure established under law as per which an encroacher has to be given an opportunity of being heard before he/ she is evicted. The removal of encroachment en-block will also lead to mass unrest, it was noted.
The validity of the law was challenged before the High Court in 2011 on the ground of allegations of land grabbing under the act by high government functionaries and influential people including police officers, politicians and bureaucrats.
Further, at press conference held at Jammu by then Principal Accountant General (Audit) J&K, SC Pandey on March 8, 2014, it was alleged that there was a “massive scam” running into several thousands of crores in the implementation of Roshni Act
The High Court eventually gave a strongly worded judgment on October 9 striking down the Act and the Rules framed under the Act. It also took strong exception to the conduct of Jammu Development Authority and Revenue Department officials for trying to “cover-up” the illegalities committed under the Act.
“The acts and omissions of officials and the encroachers/ occupants amounted to serious criminal offences, necessitating inquiry, investigation and criminal prosecutions.The large tracts of State lands illegally vested with encorachers under the Roshni Act, 2001 must be retrieved in accordance with law,” the High Court said ordering a probe by the CBI.