The ‘land jihad’ or ‘zameen jihad’ narrative, that was peddled by news media after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court order, has fallen flat on its face. The rhetoric that was pushed was that in the Hindu-majority region of Jammu lands were handed over, majorly to Muslims.
One such news report was by Zee News in its show, “DNA: Jammu में ज़मीन के ‘इस्लामीकरण‘ का DNA टेस्ट” (DNA test of Islamic conversion of land in Jammu) aired on March 11, 2020 that 25,000 persons, who were illegally occupying government lands have bought these lands from the government as per the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir States Land (vesting of ownership to the occupants) Act, also known as the Roshni Act, and 90 percent of these buyers belong to the Muslim community. The host of the show, Sudhir Chaudhary claimed, Kanoon kea ad me dharm k aadhar par jansankhya ko badalne ki koshish hoti rahi (under the garb of the law, [muslims] tried to increase their population in the region) and said that the Roshni Act was a conspiracy to change the demography of Jammu district from being a Hindu majority region to a Muslim majority region. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had moved the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) against the contentious claims and the inflammatory content made in the show and the proceedings are underway.
The J&K High court declared the Roshni Act unconstitutional and declared all the land transfers made under the Act as null and void while also directing that list of all people who had received such land to be made public on an official website. As per The Caravan 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.”
The Caravan reported that after the court’s direction, the offices of the divisional commissioners of both Jammu and Kashmir uploaded separate lists of people who benefited under the Roshni Act, and those who had illegally occupied state land, in general. This demonstrated that BJP leaders have either been beneficiaries of land under the Roshni scheme, or have featured in the list of land encroachers. Further, in the October 9, 2020 order of the court it was revealed that 6,04,602 kanals of state land were regularised under the Roshni Act across Jammu and Kashmir Of this, 5,71,210 kanals were allotted in Jammu and only 33,392 kanals in Kashmir. Further, 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; of the total 44,915 kanals of land regularised in the Jammu district under Roshni scheme, only 1,180 kanal was allotted to members of the Muslim community, he says.
A report by The Hindu stated that the beneficiaries of the Roshni Act include Haseeb Drabu, former Finance Minister and ex-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader; K.K Amla, businessman and Congress leader; Nighat Pandit, wife of retired IAS officer Shafi Pandit; Syed Akhoon of the National Conference; M.Y. Khan, former Chairman of J&K Bank; and Sujjad Kichloo, former National Conference Minister.
The Caravan report revealed that the list of encroachers included BJP leaders Kavinder Gupta, Ranbir Singh Pathania’s father, Shiv Charan Gupta (now deceased) and Abdul Gani Kohli, Anil Gupta, son of former president of the Jammu and Kashmir BJP.
The Roshni Act was introduced in 2000 by the National Conference government proposing that proprietary rights be given to the persons who without any authorisation held State land till 1990, on payment of the cost equivalent to the prevailing market rate in 1990 and the government was expected to get over ₹25,000 crore as regularisation fee, which was to be used for generating power through hydro projects. However, the PDP government relaxed the cut off year to 2004 and the Congress government then further pushed it to 2007. The Comptroller and Auditor General, in a 2014 report, had stated that only ₹76 crore had been realised from the transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013, as against the target of about ₹25,000 crore.
The political factors aside, there are marginal farmers in the villages near the India-Pakistan border in Jammu division who have been affected by the court’s judgement. Reportedly, they have been cultivating on these lands for over 70 years. “Nearly 95 percent of the people in the areas between the border and the national highway in Kathua, Samba and Jammu districts are cultivators who belong to the Hindu community. The law had come as a blessing for our people as it gave us land-ownership rights,” Bharat Bhushan, the vice-president of the Border Welfare Committee, a Kathua-based a civil-rights organisation, told The Caravan.