Scrapping of Roshni Act: SC asks J&K HC to decide pleas seeking review of verdict
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday asked the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to decide the pleas seeking review of the October 09 verdict scrapping the Roshni Act which had conferred proprietary rights on the occupants of the state land.
A bench headed by Justice N V Ramana considered the oral assurance of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Jammu and Kashmir administration and said that no coercive action will be taken against those petitioners who have approached the top court in the matter as they are not “land grabbers or unauthorised people”.
The Roshni Act was enacted in 2001 with the twin objective of generating resources for financing power projects and conferment of proprietary rights to the occupants of state land.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court had on October 09 declared the Roshni Act “illegal, unconstitutional and unsustainable”, and ordered a CBI probe into the allotment of land under this law.
“During the course of hearing, we came to know that review petitions have been filed by the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir as well as by some private individuals before the high court of Jammu & Kashmir which are stated to be coming up for hearing in the last week of December, 2020.
“In view of the above, we adjourn these matters to the last week of January 2021,” said the bench, also comprising justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose.
Mehta, while apprising the bench that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has already filed a review petition in high court, said the authority is “not against bonafide and common people who are not land grabbers”.
“We make it clear that pendency of these Special Leave Petitions before this court does not come in the way of hearing of review petitions by the high court. If any of the petitioners before this court wants to also file review petition(s) before the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir, they are at liberty to do so,” the bench said in its order.
As many as six pleas were listed for hearing in the top court on Thursday and as per Mehta’s oral submission, the protection would cover Broadway Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Nisar Hussain, Danish Aman, Hakim Suhail, Muhammed Muzaffar Shawl, Tejinder Singh Sethi along with some other co-petitioners.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench said that to avoid conflicting orders, the petitioners should go to high court for review.
“All petitioners should approach the review bench and all of them should be heard by the high court. We will direct accordingly,” the bench observed.
“The high court has listed the reviews petitions on December 21. And status quo ante has been restored and then the high court has listed the review petitions,” the bench said, asking “how can two parallel proceedings be conducted?”
Mehta said that Jammu and Kashmir administration has made it clear that encroachers and land grabbers cannot claim to be exempted from high court order.
“Land grabbers cannot be spared and simultaneously, the lawful owners have to be saved,” he told the bench.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for one of the petitioners, told the bench that high court “was wrong in scrapping the Act” and a number of Roshni Act beneficiaries have not even been heard by the high court.
“Are you aware that some reviews petitions are pending in the high court and some of them have been protected there,” the bench said.
The solicitor general sought one-week time from the bench to respond to the appeals.
The apex court observed that the J&K administration has also filed a review petition and it has divided land owners in two categories — illegal encroachers and real owners.
Rohatgi told the bench that the “idea behind this appeal was not to throw out the lawful owners from the possession of land”.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for one of the petitioners, said the verdict does not talk about the authorised owners.
Senior advocate Kailsah Vasudev, representing another petitioner, said that the review is limited to a few people and the apex court should keep this matter in abeyance and “let the review be decided there”.
“We are directing the high court to take up the review petitions pending there,” the bench said.
The top court, while saying that it would list the matter in January, told Mehta that till such time there should be no coercive action.
“I am before the lordships and no coercive action will be taken,” Mehta said while requesting that no order to this effect be passed.
“Any such order will create confusion,” he said, adding that “kindly have it (hear the matter) on Monday”.
“I will take instructions. Have it on Monday and I will place the factual position,” Mehta said.
Rohatgi said, “The statement of the solicitor general is good enough for me”.
On December 07, the high court had adjourned till next week the hearing on a petition filed by the administration seeking a review of its earlier order scrapping the Roshni Act in totality.
The petition, filed by Special Secretary in Revenue department Nazir Ahmad Thakur on December 04 for modification of the nearly two-month-old judgment, has pleaded that a large number of common people would suffer unintentionally including landless cultivators and individuals who are themselves residing in dwellings on small areas.
The Roshni Act initially envisaged conferment of proprietary rights of around 20.55 lakh kanals (102,750 hectares) to the occupants of which only 15.85 percent land was approved for vesting of ownership rights.