Bharatiya Janata Party members in Jammu and Kashmir, and in some cases their relatives, are named as encroachers of state land in a government-published list. On 9 October 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared the Roshni Act, formally known as the Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting Ownership to the Occupants) Act of 2001, unconstitutional. In 2001, the National Conference government, led by Farooq Abdullah government had passed the Roshni Act, which proposed to transfer ownership of state land to those who were already occupying it for a fee determined by the government. The objective was to generate resources to finance power-projects for electricity. The high court has now declared all the land transfers made under the Act as null and void. It also directed the union territory’s administration to compile lists of those who had received state land under the Act and the “details of State land which was in illegal and unauthorized occupation.” The court asked for these lists to be posted on an official website, “with full identity of encroachers.”
Kavinder Gupta, a BJP leader and a former deputy chief minister, was quick to describe the court’s judgement as a “surgical strike” on “land jihad.” This phrase was used to imply that it was primarily Muslims who had benefitted under the Roshni Act. The term “land jihad” is a reference to a right-wing narrative, which claims that Muslims have been encroaching on government land in the Hindu-majority regions of the former state in order to change its demography. In November, Anurag Thakur, a BJP union minister, called the Roshni land scheme the “biggest land scam of India.”
On 24 November, following the court’s directions, the offices of the divisional commissioners of both Jammu and Kashmir uploaded separate lists of people who benefitted under the Roshni Act, and those who had illegally occupied state land, in general. Ironically, the documents show that BJP leaders have either been beneficiaries of land under the Roshni scheme, or have featured in the list of land encroachers. According to Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad, a lawyer who petitioned the high court to probe land grabbing cases in 2011, the lists also show that the majority of the beneficiaries of the Roshni Act are in Jammu, and are non-Muslim. According to data provided by the government and noted in the 9 October court order, 6,04,602 kanals of state land were regularised under the Roshni Act across Jammu and Kashmir—a kanal is about an eighth of an acre. Of this, 5,71,210 kanals were allotted in Jammu and only 33,392 kanals in Kashmir. The details of the land beneficiaries bust the BJP’s “land jihad” narrative.
One of the lists, uploaded on the website of the Jammu divisional commissioner, states that “Kavinder Gupta” encroached 39 kanals of land in Ghaink village, in the Bhalwal tehsil of Jammu district. However, it lists the “profession of the illegal occupant” as “farmer.” Kavinder denied that he had occupied land illegally. “If there is any such land tract under my illegal possession, the matter should be probed,” he told me. “People know, I have a clean image.” He claimed that the list says “Kavinder Gupta and sons,” and added that he only has one son. However, the list states “Kavinder Gupta and ors”—or others.
The list of people who benefitted from the Roshni scheme, posted on the Jammu divisional commissioner’s website, also mentions the father of Ranbir Singh Pathania, another BJP leader. Ranbir is a former BJP member of legislative assembly from the Ramnagar constituency, in Jammu division. The list states that his father, Bupinder Singh received nine kanals of land in Kehal village, in the Majalta tehsil of Udhampur district, for Rs 970.