The interim report of Special Tribunal on Government and Shamlat Land submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court has pointed out widespread land grabbing on Chandigarh’s periphery. The report has evoked varied reactions. Some people, associated with the case have welcomed the decision but others find fault with it and describe it as one-sided.
The Tribunal headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Kuldeep Singh recently submitted its interim report on alleged land grab cases on the periphery of Chandigarh in Punjab. The report has been submitted on the basis of investigations or enquiries conducted in seven villages out of a total of 336 villages. The Tribunal had been constituted on the orders of Punjab and Haryana High Court in May last year. The case started with a petition filed by a Nayagaon resident, Kuldeep Singh, who had alleged security threat to him by a senior Punjab police cop, trying to grab his land. Kuldeep Singh had alleged that several influential persons had started forcing people to sell their land. Later, Kuldeep Singh had informed the bench that he was not willing to continue with the case. However, the bench decided to continue with it, taking a cognizance of seriousness of the allegations.
Earlier, the bench had directed Punjab ADGP, Chander Shekhar to conduct the investigation. Shekhar pointed out several irregularities in ownership of land by some influential persons. After his retirement, IGP, C S R Reddy took over the investigation and submitted report about the ownership of land by 60 influential persons. Then high court formed the Tribunal to look into possible land grabbing.
Although, the concerned advocates or persons so far remain silent on the report some people say that the Tribunal had not taken the response of the people, it indicted. H.C. Arora, an advocate practising in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, pointed out that it is a principle of natural justice, that an accused person is given the opportunity to speak in his own defence.
In its interim report, the Tribunal has held that huge chunk of land on the Chandigarh periphery in Punjab had either been grabbed already or was being grabbed. The report points out the systematic way, in which ownership of thousands of acres, mainly shamlat or government land, had been first changed and then transferred to other people. The report states that in several cases, Revenue Department officials connived in the illegalities. The Tribunal also states that the Director or Additional Director of Consolidation, in collusion with Revenue Department officials, passed orders, which were illegal. He is accused of conspiring to commit fraud. The report points out that hill or riverine land, which could not be shared, was not only shared by the landowners but also sold, without demarcation or proper division.
The report suggests that records were altered or orders were passed right from 1981 to facilitate fraud. Giving one such example, the report stated that, on the orders of the Additional Director of Consolidation of Holdings, passed on January 16, 1986, a mutation in village Kansal was passed on November 25, 1999 for change of ownership and various subsequent sale deeds were illegal and without jurisdiction. Riverine land, whose ownership vests with the panchayat and which no right holder can cultivate, was changed in the records and treated as jumla mushtarka malkaan (common land where landowners are shareholders).
Based on the orders, the mutation was sanctioned in Revenue records on November 25, 1999, showing the rightholders as owners of respective shares. Subsequently the landowners sold their land. Even before the mutation, several influential persons obtained General Power of Attorney for lands in 1998. Such persons included Sonam Kumar, son of then Punjab Governor Lt General (retired) B.K.N. Chhibber, for land measuring 44 kanal, one Harjinder Singh held power of attorney for land measuring 56 kanals while Darshan Kumar held GPA for land measuring about 30 kanals.
Later, in 1998 or early 1999, shares for land measuring about 96 kanals were purchased by Harjinder Singh, Sumedh Singh Saini, S.S. Brar and J.S, Brar. According to report, through an order on April 10, 2003, six persons got separate khasra girdawaris. But in the entries, the name of Darshan Kumar and Soman Kumar’s names are missing. Sumedh Singh Saini held shares of land measuring 32 kanal. The Punjabi Cooperative Group House Building Society had also purchased 21.2 acres for Rs 8.19 crores and sold it to Tata Housing Development Corporation Limited for about Rs 96.59 crores.
Mentioning village Bartana, the Tribunal report states that on May 9, 1985, Kuldeep Singh Minhas, Director of Consolidation of Holdings, passed orders for distribution of 1104 bigha panchayat land among the people as per their shareholdings and, by ignoring the mutation showing the land as of gram panchayat land. The records show Kuldeep Singh’s own landholding. Thus through his order, he himself became the beneficiary. Further the entry in the records had been found in different ink and prima facie looked to be interpolated. The Tribunal held that the director had no authority to pass orders to work out shares of individuals. The Tribunal also suggested an investigation to establish whether or not the Kuldeep Singh in the Bartana record is the same Kuldeep Singh who held the post of director and, if so, then take suitable action.
The Tribunal report states that in Village Majrian, if found that records were tampered with in connivance with Revenue officials. Some persons were shown as shareholders and received shares vide an order passed by Consolidation Officer on April 22, 1991. These persons, according to the patwari, were fictitious and had been incorporated fraudulently in the records. A large chunk of the land in question was shamlat land, or its was hilly or constituted choe. Hence, The Director of Consolidation was not authorized to pass orders for dividing shares. Later the shares were sold. In 2003, on request of shareholders, land was partitioned. This land is now in possession of several people, among them Captain Amarinder Singh and his mother Mohinder Kaur, and several others. The Tribunal held that the orders passed in 1991 and 2003 were illegal and thus void. The Tribunal recommends punishment for persons responsible for tampering with the records.
Mentioning Village Karoran, now known as Naya Gaon, the Tribunal states that in 1995 sanction was given to mutate shamlat land measuring 22965 kanal land in favor of Shamsher Singh and others. The Tribunal states that this mutation was illegal. After this mutation, the individuals started selling their shares and sale deeds of Rs 30 to 35 thousand were subsequently registered. In the case of other mutations, the Tribunal also holds them to be illegal as no Revenue official at any time demarcated the shares on the ground. Major shareholders who now own the land in the village included Col B.S. Sandhu, his firms, including World Wide Immigration Consultancy Services and Green Earth Society and his two sons. The Tribunal states that the Sandhu family holds land measuring 4709 kanals.
Referring to another village, Mullanpur Garib Dass, the Tribunal states that for more than 30 years some individuals are locked in a legal dispute with the panchayat over land ownership. Of 476 cases, 425 petitioner have died.
The Tribunal gives a clean chit to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The report mentions about the Badal family in connection with settlement of land owned in village Lohgarh in Zirakpur. This land was never owned or possessed by the state, panchayet or public authority. The Tribunal also gives a clean chit to the Kairon family for land owned in village Chhat and Kishanpura.
The report submitted by the Tribunal refers to the non cooperative manner of government officials who provided the Tribunal required material after great delay. The report stated that both oral and written requests were made to the concerned police officials to handover the records of investigations made by Chander Shekhar and Reddy. The Tribunal was formed through a High Court order on May 29, 2005. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kuldeep Singh, who heads the Tribunal, wrote to the Punjab Inspector General of Police on December 5, 2012 requesting the record. Later, on January 15 and January 30, he again wrote, requesting the record. Later, the Tribunal agreed to take the record on CDs made by Chander Shekhar. However, out of 294 CDs only 47 were provided to him on February 7, 2013.
Stating that the work relating to periphery of Chandigarh only would take a minimum of one year, the Tribunal has left the decision about the extension of its period to the High Court. The Tribunal has however, made suggestions for faster disposal of civil cases. It suggests that orders of civil courts, Consolidation and Revenue authorities be reopened and decided afresh. The Tribunal also suggests a fast track court and special attorneys to handle such cases. The Tribunal has suggested establishment of a special High Court bench to handle the cases.
The Day and night news team talked to Kuldeep Singh, whose petition resulted in the investigation. However, Kuldeep Singh did not seem to be convinced with the investigations. Kuldeep Singh said that he expected that the Tribunal would give him a hearing to take his version on the sequence of incidents that forced him to move to High Court. The High Court has set the next hearing of the case for March 25 when the bench would decide on need of further probe or next line of action.
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