Punjab's elite-60 under HC lens over land dealings (Punjab Newsletter)
Chandigarh, May 25 (IANS) The makers and custodians of policy and rules in Punjab have also turned out to be the biggest violators. The greed of acquiring prime land in the periphery of Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, has brought powerful politicians, police officers, bureaucrats and influential people under the scanner of the Punjab and Haryana High Court here.
Virtually hearing the case on a day-to-day basis, the high court has set up a two-man judicial tribunal to look into irregularities and violations committed by Punjab's powerful elite in grabbing prime land in Punjab in the vicinity of Chandigarh's VIP areas. The land, said to be worth several millions of rupees in the market, is in the Kansal and Nayagaon village area north of Chandigarh. The area falls in Punjab's territory.
The list of what is known as the elite-60 includes the likes of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, police chief Sumedh Singh Saini, serving and retired top bureaucrats and police officers and other influential people. The list includes two former police chiefs and a former chief secretary.
The high court wants a thorough investigation into the misuse of power by the elite-60 in getting 'shamlata' (public land) converted into private land and then getting it transferred in their or in benami names. The high court has already pointed out that the "land grabbings" had been done by the influential lot by "fudging the land records".
The judicial tribunal will be headed by former Supreme Court judge Kuldeep Singh and will be assisted by a senior judicial officer, the high court has stated.
A high court bench consisting of Acting Chief Justice M.M. Kumar and Justice Alok Singh rejected the plea of Punjab Advocate General Ashok Aggarwal that the Punjab government was already probing the land purchases made by influential people and that there was no need to set up a separate judicial tribunal for this.
The high court has not only initiated a judicial probe into the irregularities committed by the powerful elite but has even rejected a clean chit given to them by the state government in its report submitted before the court recently. The Punjab government, through Chief Secretary Rakesh Singh, had filed an affidavit before the court justifying the purchase of land by the elite-60.
While the Punjab government stoutly opposed the setting up of a judicial tribunal in the matter, the high court bench said: "How do we expect those who are to decide will decide against themselves?"
"When people like Sumedh Singh Saini and the chief minister are involved in the case, how can we expect a fair investigation from the state agencies? Do you think that a district development and panchayat officer (DDPO) or even a director will dare to take action?" the bench asked.
Directing that the changes made in land records be investigated, the court said: "How have these entries undergone a change? The areas around Chandigarh, what at one time were described as public land, has been converted into private land. The entire gamut has to be looked into."
Sources in the Punjab government say that the prime land grabbed by the elite-60 ranges from two acres to several acres. A former top bureaucrat alone owns around 21 acres.
While the land-grabbing has happened over the years, the controversy has been on since 2007. The Punjab government gave the probe to a senior police officer. The inquiry report was submitted last year but no action was taken.
The area around Chandigarh, India's only planned city, was supposed to be protected by a strict Periphery Control Act under which no major construction was to be allowed in the periphery of 33 km. However, in the last nearly 50 years, the Act has been violated with impunity.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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