📷 A woman from Gujjar family in Nowgam area of Srinagar during winters. Photograph by Saide Zahoor
In a major development, the Jammu and Kashmir government led by Governor Satya Pal Malik has repealed the Roshini Act or scheme on Friday, against which a Jammu based right wing group “Ikkjutt Jammu” was campaigning, saying “the act is used only to settle Muslim population in Jammu to change its demography.”
The order to repeal the Roshini Act – called as The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, passed by State Administrative Council (SAC) hasn’t nullified any previous land transfers under the scheme, despite claiming that it hasn’t served the desired purpose. It is said that most of the land rights were given to politicians and businessmen, and they will continue to keep it.
The Act was enacted in 2001 by the the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Congress-PDP coalition government. Its main objective was to generate resources for power projects and to confer proprietary rights to occupants of state land subject to payment of land cost fixed by the government. Later under the new governments the act was amended further. Several Gujjar and Bakerwal families have filed applications under this Act but could now be evicted, a demand by the groups who wanted the act to be repealed.
The official release of the SAC also mentions a PIL filed by Ankur Sharma, Chairman of Ikkjutt Jammu group, saying that “it is significant to highlight that the entire legislation was challenged” before the court in a PIL filed by Ankur Sharma.
“Won’t allow Islamic invasion of Jammu”
Challenging the Roshini Act, Sharma says he filed the PIL “on the grounds that they [Government] have created different classes within the society.” Sharma’s group has been leading campaigns and rallies across Jammu, speaking mainly against the Muslim population, demanding that the special provisions like Article 370 and 35A to Jammu and Kashmir state should be repealed.
Last month, Sharma’s group organized a large gathering of people, including several Hindu Right wing leaders, where the discussed issues included: “Mehbooba Mufti’s 14th Feb Secret order against Jammu, Article 35-A/370 in Supreme Court, Demographic Invasion on Jammu Province; Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Christians As Minority in Supreme Court, Roshni Act in High Court.”
Continuing his campaign against Muslims in Jammu, Sharma told The Kashmir Walla that he won’t mince words but will clearly say that their work is to stop “Islamic invasion of Jammu.” “Under Roshini Act, 90 percent of the applications were successfully processed in favor of Muslims, including Gujjars and Bakerwals,” claims Sharma. “Muslims from outside were made to settle in state lands. Intent behind the Act was to change demography of Jammu, especially by settling Muslims.”
However, officials say that the Gujjar and Bakerwals may had been benefited but they didn’t as much. Most of the land was grabbed by the people who had influence in the government. But Sharma adds that after the Act has been repealed there will be process to recover land, which is under occupation of people.
“Whoever political party forms government from Kashmir region, they run state by the principles of Islam,” accused Sharma. “This is secular state but sadly Indian constitution provides its special provision. We am to dismantle this Islamic state structure. In the name of democracy it is theocracy. These political parties are using jihad by Legislative assembly by passing such laws and terrorists are using by gun.”
Sharma who claims to have 8000 registered members in his organization, says that the next step is to garner support for repealing of Article 370 and 35A.
“Gujjar and Bakerwal community is living life in hell”
With Sharma and his group getting larger support base in Jammu, the campaign against the Act on communal lines garnered more support. He boasts about organizing rallies against this demography changes in Jammu.
President of Jammu and Kashmir Gujjars United Front (Jammu), Anwar Chowdhury, while speaking to The Kashmir Walla said that Gujjar Bakerwal community, among which one million are nomads, are not benefited but are “living life in hell.”
“Gujjar and Bakerwal were not benefited from the Roshini Act but their applications were put on hold,” said Chowdhury. “It was only land mafia who got the land.” Instead, Chowdhury says, Jammu Development Authority (JDA) is forcing Gujjars out from their lands, saying “it will give some money and seize the property.”
“Houses are being destroyed, with the help of local police and municipal corporation too,” he adds. “Many areas, even not in city, have been brought under Municipal corporation so that they can force people out.”
As per the official statistics, Jammu and Kashmir has about 3.4 million Gujjar and Bakerwal population, spread across Kashmir’s Budgam, Srinagar, Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam, Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipore, Shopian and Ganderbal districts and in Jammu’s Poonch, Rajouri, Samba, Kathua, Jammu, Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar, Reasi and Udhampur district.
Gujjar and Bakerwal community in Jammu and other adjacent districts have been affected in last few years, with the rise of Hindutva politics in the region. On claims of Sharma and many others of demography change in Jammu, Chowdhury added that Sharma is telling lies, “our people didn’t even apply, applications were not even entertained. Our people don’t even know much about the process. Those who have filed application are pending.”
Chowdhury says that as the political situation in whole country is shaped by religion and is running along communal lines, these groups in Jammu also have political ambitions. “They make these small groups and fronts to divide society along communal lines. When they give such communal statements why doesn’t government act?,” said Chowdhury.
A Land Scam?
One of the other opposition to the Roshini Act had been that under the Act, approximately 2.57 lakh acres of state land was opened to conferring ownership rights, to raise nearly rupees 25,448 crore to finance power projects. But, it was found that over the years, only 15.85 percent of the land was approved for vesting ownership rights. Though, the revenue generated was meager, as per the then government.
Many complaints of the misuse had come forward and a probe was ordered in 2016 but the government into alleged irregularities under the Act after the Revenue minister informed that instead of the expected rupees 25,000 crores, the Act had generated only rupees 78.47 crores for the government.
In January 2017, while replying to a question, the then Revenue Minister Syed Basharat Bukhari said that the Valley had 56023 cases pending while Jammu had only 25712, most cases approved. By 2017 only less than rupees 100 crore was fetched through the Act generating revenue of only rupees 25.026 crores in Jammu against grant of ownership rights of over 24,999 acres to 39,829 occupants. But in Kashmir, rupees 54.21 crores were generated from 2411.6 acres land, granted to 10,328 beneficiaries.