SC dismisses Ex- J&K Minister Abdul Ghani Kolhi’s plea in Forest Land encroachment case

Approach of Art.136 Cannot Be Adopted While Deciding Petitions by The High Court Under Art.227: SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the plea raised by the Ex-Jammu and Kashmir Minister in Forest Land Encroachment case stating that the High Court had only sought response from the authorities.

Brief facts:

The Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the occupants) Act, 2001 popularly called as ‘Roshini Act’ was passed during the period of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah with an objective to transfer the ownership rights of state land to its occupants subject to payment of certain cost determined by the state. The cut off year was set as 1990 for the encroachment on state land. The government had a target to earn around Rs.25000 crore by transferring the lands to the encroachers with which it had planned to spend the same in hydroelectric power projects. By way of amendment the cut off period was further relaxed to the year 2007.

However based on the allegations that the land transfers in Gulmarg was done to ineligible beneficiaries, investigations were initiated. In 2009, the state vigilance organization registered First Information Report against the government officials who conspired criminally to vest ownership to ineligible beneficiaries who did not satisfy the criteria under the Roshini Act. In the year 2014, a report was submitted by the CAG stating that against the target of the government to earn Rs. 25000 crore only Rs.76 crores has been earned. The report further stated that there has been arbitrary reduction of prices so as to benefit various politicians and affluent people.

In the year 2018, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir restrained all the beneficiaries of the Roshini Act to transfer the lands in any kind. Based on the report of CAG, A public Interest Litigation was filed by one Ankur Sharma, an Advocate seeking to investigate into the irregularities in land transfers under the act. Subsequently in November 2018, the Roshini Act was repealed stating that it has failed to fulfill its objectives. The said PIL was listed before the Division Bench of Jammu and Kashmir high court comprising of Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Tashi Rabstan.

Key features:

On 21st February, 2020, the High court of Jammu and Kashmir observed the following:

1. While remarking that it was shocking state of affairs that prevailed in the manner in which the land was transferred to the encroachers, it directed the respondents to file an affidavit through officers not below the rank of secretary, revenue department stating that the list furnished before the court is true and complete.

2. It further directed the respondents to calculate the value of the land that has been vested in the encroachers and furnish the list regarding the same along with the classification of lands based on its nature.

3. The court directed the Deputy Commissioner to conduct enquires in the present case expeditiously and draw the list of beneficiaries of fake entries and the authorities who were responsible for the same.

4. In the petition filed by Ankur sharma seeking registration of FIR against Ex- minister Abdul Ghani and others for occupying 10 kanals of forest land at Nowabad Sunjwan, the court directed that the copy of entire paper book including the writ petition to be made available to the Deputy Commissioner as well as the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.

5. The court further directed them to conduct physical inspection of the lands. The court also added that they shall scrutinise the entire records and submit a report regarding the same before the division Bench.

6. The high court has also ordered the authorities to submit the report within 4 weeks regarding the raising of buildings in forest area.

Aggrieved by the said order of the High Court Abdul Ghani filed a plea before the Supreme Court. The plea was listed before the vacation Bench comprising of judges Justice U.U.Lalit and Justice Aniruddha Bose. The division bench dismissed the plea of Abdul Ghani stating that the court had sought only the report regarding the stipulated matter and there was no substantial question of law that has been decided by the court.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje