CAG Unearths Biggest Ever Land Scam In J&K

CAG Unearths Biggest Ever Land Scam In J&K

4 March 2014
The Daily Excelsior
Mohinder Verma

Jammu: Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has unearthed biggest ever scam in Jammu and Kashmir involving 3.48 lakh kanal of State land, which was approved for transfer to the illegal occupants under the much-talked about Roshni Scheme. A loss to the tune of Rs 225 crore to the State exchequer due to rebates and incentives in respect of only 666 kanal land has come to the fore at the initial stage and following in-depth enquiry by the State Vigilance Commission, which has already initiated the exercise in this regard, the loss is likely to run into several thousand crores of rupees. The J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 popularly known as the Roshni Act came into effect from March 1, 2002 and it was amended in 2004 and 2007. The objective of the Act was to generate funds to finance power projects in the State by granting ownership at market value to such permanent residents, who were unauthorized occupants of the State land. The Government, in November 2006, had estimated resource mobilization of about Rs 25,448 crore by selling 20,64,972 kanals State land under unauthorized occupation. By March 2013, a total of 2,54,439 applications had been received for transfer of 17,86,387 kanal land out of which 1,76,774 applications had been disposed of (including rejections) and transfer of total 3,48,160 kanal land had been approved. When the CAG began the process of scrutinizing the implementation of Roshni Act and the Rules between November 2012 and July 2013 to assess whether there was any deficiency in the formulation of the Rules and also irregularities in the implementation of the Act, the Revenue Department didn’t extend required cooperation to the CAG in furnishing information-records despite series of letters from the auditors. “With this constraint, audit was conducted through a test-check of records of the offices of the Deputy Commissioners of Budgam, Anantnag, Srinagar, Pulwama, Jammu, Samba and Udhampur in which the Act was implemented and 547 cases involving transfer of 666 kanals of non-agricultural land were examined in detail”, the CAG said in its report. During audit in test checked cases, the CAG found significant variations in unit price approved by the committees for different occupants in the same area or locality and this resulted into undue benefit to some occupants. Quoting the instance, the CAG report said that in Badhori village in Samba district, which was carved out of erstwhile Jammu district in April 2007, rate for residential land was approved as Rs 5 lakh per kanal by the Jammu District’s Committee. After pending applications partially processed in Jammu district were transferred to Samba, the Committee in Samba reduced the rate to Rs 1.50 lakh per kanal without assigning any reason. Stating that provision of rebates, incentives and penalties was not in consonance with the provisions of the Act, the CAG pointed out that while laying down the parameters for fixing the price of the land by the notified committees, the Act mandated vide Section 12(2) that the committees shall take into consideration potential value of the land and the market value of land determined for the purpose of Stamp Duty under the Stamps Act. However, the Rules of the Roshni Act provided for differential pricing of land depending upon the size of plot, category of occupants or end use of the land by prescribing different rates of rebates over land prices assessed by the statutory committee. “This resulted in substantative deviation from the mandatory provisions of the Act”, the CAG said, adding “the rebate provisions were against the objectives, scope and substantive provisions of the Act”. In 547 cases the statutory committees had fixed the price at Rs 325.39 crore at an average rate of Rs 48.86 lakh per kanal (before allowing rebates and incentives). However, after allowing the discounts over the land price fixed by the statutory committees, the applicants were asked to pay only Rs 100.12 crore. Thus, there was a loss of Rs 225.26 crore to the State exchequer only in the text checked cases, the CAG report said. If loss in test checked cases that too only in 6 districts of the State has been found at Rs 225.26 crore what could be its quantum in all the cases across the 22 districts can be easily assessed. It is pertinent to mention here that State Vigilance Commission, on the receipt of audit paragraphs, has already started investigation into the ‘Roshni Scam’. According to the report, of the 3,48,160 kanals of land approved for transfer, major portion (3,40,091) kanals was categorized as “Agricultural” and subsequently transferred free of cost. Interestingly, no stamp duty was charged while transferring such a huge agricultural land. Stating that Rules made by the Government contained provisions that were contrary to the scope and objectives of the Act, the CAG said that Section 8(2) of the Roshni Act stipulates that total land in possession of any person or a family including the land vested in such person or a family under the Act shall not exceed the limit of 100 kanals. However, the Rules provided for transfer of all agricultural lands to be free of cost, which is beyond the scope, objectives and mandatory provisions of the Act. “Hence all transfers of agricultural lands under the Act become illegal”, the CAG underlined. Even lack of due diligence was noted in effecting such transfers resulting in even non-cultivable lands being irregularly transferred by showing them as “agricultural”. “Whether the lands claimed to be agricultural lands were indeed being used for agricultural purposes for at least three years on the date of application was not properly scrutinized as the nature-quantum of agricultural produce was not found on record”, the CAG said. Quoting an instance, the CAG said that in Budgam, Pulwama and Anantnag, 733 kanals and five marlas of non-cultivable land was illegally transferred to 223 applicants showing as agricultural land, free of cost. Further, in Budgam district, 1185 out of total 1224 cases approved for transfer of 3321 kanal of land pertained to agricultural land whose records were not made available to audit, the CAG pointed out. “After transfer of 3,48,160 kanals under the Act, new encroachments are continuing unabated as area of public lands under encroachment was 20,46,436 kanals in March 2013 as against 20,64,972 kanals in November 2006”, the report pointed out.