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Dark times in J&K as Gujjars and Bakarwals are left utterly landless

Just when the Roshni Act was bringing some stability in the lives of the Gujjars and the Bakarwals of Jammu & Kashmir, the Governor chose to repeal it. The two traditionally nomadic pastoralist communities are now not only facing a livelihood crisis 

Jammu & Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has repealed the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, popularly known as the Roshni Act, because it had “not served the desired purpose and is no longer relevant in the present context”. The decision has created a livelihood crisis for the Gujjar and Bakarwal Muslim tribal communities as they are being dispossessed of the grazing land for their cattle.

The Roshni Act, promulgated in 2001 by the Farooq Abdullah government, envisaged the transfer of ownership rights of government land to its occupants, subject to the payment of a fee. One of the aims of the Roshni programme was to generate funds for the commissioning of hydroelectric power projects.

A Gujjar family on the move

The Gujjars and Bakarwals are nomads: they move to the plains of Jammu during winters, when grazing lands are covered in snow, and return to Kashmir in summers. It was the Roshni Act that gave them rights over grazing land.

Gujjars and Bakarwals have been using State land as tenants for grazing their cattle for centuries. They never owned the land. In 1947, they could not afford even the 50 paise fee for establishing their ownership rights over their land. With time, the land prices escalated and it became impossible for the two communities to own land. It was to deal with this problem that the then Farooq Abdullah government enacted the Roshni Act, under which the two communities could get ownership of the land they occupied, by paying a fee determined by the government. One objective of the scheme was to raise funds for power projects in the state, hence the name “Roshni” (light).

J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik

The repeal of the Act has created innumerable problems for the Gujjars and the Bakarwals. Anwar Chaudhary, president of the Gujjar United Front, said, “In Jammu, Gujjars and Bakarwals are being driven out of their lands. They are poor people who had applied for ownership rights under the Act. While the top politicians and bureaucrats have been granted ownership of lands in their possession, the applications of these Tribals were not taken seriously.”

The decision means that thousands of Gujjar and Bakarwal families in the state, especially in the Jammu region, may lose ownership of the lands they have occupied. The two communities constitute 11.9 per cent of the state’s population.

A Bakarwal family

The two communities had made the Jammu region their base and now, they are being driven out from there. The repeal of the Roshni Act means that they cannot even claim ownership of their land. Javed Ahmed Rana, MLA from Mendhar in Poonch district, told FORWARD Press: “The repeal of the Act has indeed created problems for the Gujjars and the Bakarwals but this Act was not meant for the benefit of any particular community. It was meant for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and people of all communities living here. Why the governor has taken this decision is beyond me. It is a catastrophe for the poor nomads, who were hoping that they would finally be able to own a permanent home. This is a matter of deep concern. As a welfare state, the government is supposed to work for the wellbeing of the weaker sections of society. But it has failed to do so. I fear that the decision will deprive these communities of their centuries-old means of livelihood. What will they do if they don’t have land for grazing their cattle?”

Argument for the repeal

When the Act was promulgated, the government’s target was to earn Rs 25,448 crore by transferring 20,64,972 kanals or 1,04,458 hectares of encroached state land to existing occupants against payment at market rates. The Act was subsequently amended by the successive governments but due to rampant corruption and nepotism in allotment of land, the programme could not achieve its objectives.

In 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in its report, noted the irregularities in the transfer of encroached land. The report said that the programme has failed miserably in meeting its objectives and as against the target of generating Rs 25,448 crores, the government made only Rs 76 crore through it in the period 2007-2013.

According to the governor’s office, only 15.85 per cent of the target of granting ownership rights over 20.55 lakh kanals of land could be fulfilled. According to the officials of the J&K Revenue Department, at the time of the repeal of the Act, around 77,000 applications seeking ownership rights were pending.

Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil

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About The Author

Kumar Sameer

Kumar Sameer is a senior journalist. He has worked for several newspapers including 'Rashtriya Sahara'. He has also been the resident editor of the Delhi edition of the Hindi daily 'National Duniya'

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