Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Policy soon to ensure panchayat land not doled out: Punjab to HC

Chandigrah, Oct 22, 2013
In a significant development, the state government told the Punjab and Haryana High Court that the state is in the process to come up with a policy to ensure that panchayat land is not doled out to private parties to earn profits. The new policy will be put up before the Cabinet for clearance.

The high court had, on a previous hearing, stayed construction in all such cases where panchayat land has been given to private parties to earn profits.

To ascertain the veracity of both the lease deeds alleged to be tampered with, the Punjab Vigilance Bureau has sent them to a forensic science laboratory for examination. The lease deeds were allegedly altered and executed in favour of an Education Trust in Dera Bassi. The Trust belongs to the brother-in-law of former Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Mithan Lal Singla. Singla is the father of Vijay Singla, accused in the Railgate scam.

This was informed to the high court on Monday by counsel for Punjab government during the resumed hearing of a petition filed by one Harshinder Singh, through his counsel Navkiran Singh.

In August, the Punjab Vigilance Bureau was entrusted with the investigation. The Vigilance Bureau also told the high court on Monday that the investigation was about to conclude. The bureau had sought four weeks time to complete the investigation and submit a report which was granted.

The high court, in August, had asked the bureau to find out whether there was any connivance between government officials and members of the Trust. The entire transaction and especially the lease deed had come under the high court scanner for allegedly striking a 'deal' with the Punjab government to get over 21 acres of common panchayat land at a throwaway price.

Also, while the original deed read that it was leased to a Trust for 99 years, the copy supplied to the state government mentioned this period as 33 years. Despite the high court being seized of the matter, the authorities 'corrected' the original document. The high court had reprimanded Punjab for making an 'attempt to overreach the court', and had sought explanation from the concerned officer.

Navkiran, on behalf of the petitioner had alleged that Jagan Tubes Limited - jointly owned by Mithan Lal Singla and other family members - decided to venture into education and accordingly, created JTL Education Foundation in 2010. They filed an application requesting the government to lease 21.26 acres in Sanauli village, Dera Bassi, for construction of G D Goenka International school. It has been alleged that without holding an auction the land was leased for 33 years for Rs 30,000 per acre annually. The petitioner has alleged that going by the rate prevalent during the period, this amount should have been Rs 6 lakh per acre annually. Terming it a fraud, Singh requested the court to send the two copies of official records to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to find out which one is fudged.

Admitting the petition, the court directed Punjab Vigilance to probe as to how two different lease deeds were issued for the same piece of land.

© 2013 The Indian Express ltd

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