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New Delhi: Kavinder Gupta, the senior BJP leader and former Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister, has been found to have been the illegal occupant of government-owned land in the state from 2010 to 2017, the Indian Express reported.
Ironically, Gupta had been a vocal opponent of the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 (also known as the Roshni Act) which proposed transferring the ownership of state land to its illegal inhabitants by charging them market rates – the same land which Gupta has now been found to have occupied.
The Indian Express report noted that the information was obtained through an RTI application filed by advocate Sheikh Shakeel. Answering the enquiry, the Bhalwal tehsildar provided that Gupta, along with Subash Sharma, an independent councillor representing Indira Colony, Janipur in the Jammu Municipal Corporation and Shiv Rattan Gupta, a resident of Indira Colony, jointly occupied the land in question.
The plot – Kharsa No. 1789 – measured up to 23 kanaal, 9 marla and is in the Ghaink village in the Bhalwal tehsil of Jammu (8 kanaal = one acre, one marla = 270 sq ft). The plot, now restored to the government, is a hill with wild growth and no cultivation or construction.
The Kharsa number is a plot number given to a piece of land by the revenue department.
In 2010, a kharsa girdawari (a document from the revenue department which specifies land and crop deals) had been entered in the names of the three individuals. However, this document was cancelled by the Bhalwal tehsildar on February 9, 2017 in accordance with a Jammu and Kashmir high court order which directed the government to void all girdwaris of state land to private individuals.
Kavinder Gupta was, at the time, the mayor of the Jammu Municipal Corporation under the National Conference-Congress coalition government.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Gupta and Sharma both denied having any knowledge of the girdwari or occupying the land.
Bhalwal tehsildar Amit Upadhyay and Ghaink patwari Mohammad Aslam told the newspaper that they did not know how the girdwaris were entered in the names of the three concerned individuals. Upadhyay, however, stated that girdwaris covering state land cannot be entered in an individual’s name unless they are present, in person, to show that the land is occupied by them.
The Roshni Act was brought into force by the Farooq Abdullah-led National conference government in 2001 and the funds raised from the divestment of state land to private individuals – estimated to be a sum of Rs. 25,000 crore – was to be used to set up hydel power plants in the state.
However, in 2014, alleging irregularities in the scheme’s implementation, the Vigilance Organisation moved against 20 government officials for misusing their power to make transfers to private individuals. In 2018, then-Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik cancelled all pending applications for land transfers under the Act.
Finally, in October 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir high court nullified the legislation ab initio (from its inception) and ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the matter.
Ironically, in the run-up to the District Development Council (DDC) elections held in November 2020, Kavinder Gupta described the Roshni Act as “land jihad” and described government action taken against the legislation as a “surgical strike” against the corrupt officials who made land transfers for their own benefit.