If the Punjab vigilance bureau (VB) is to be believed, the then Patiala deputy commissioner (DC) Vikas Garg and other revenue officials took a bribe of a relatively meagre Rs. 2 crore to facilitate illegal sale of government land worth Rs. 250 crore by one private party to another in October 2011.
However, in court, the three arrested accused - 'seller' Jaswant Singh, and 'buyers' NP Singh and Yashpal Aggarwal - said the claimed confession had been extracted under pressure. Their lawyer even alleged that Kiraninder Singh, a member of the erstwhile Patiala royal family, had posed as the real owner of the land and executed the key power of attorney for Rs. 6 crore.
Earlier, the VB said in the court of the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) that the arrested men had revealed how the five accused government officials - all suspended, none arrested -- allowed sale of the 6000 sq yards housing six government offices by distributing the bribe as follows: DC Garg got Rs. 80 lakh, naib tehsildar Gurinder Singh Walia got Rs. 1.05 crore, and Rs. 15 lakh was distributed amongst district revenue officer (DRO) Rajbir Singh, kanungo Pritpal Singh and patwari Suresh Kumar. On paper, the deal was shown worth Rs. 10 crore to further evade levies.
The scam had come to light in a report of the then divisional commissioner SR Ladhar, and an FIR was finally registered in November last year after the VB probed the matter on the CM's directions. IAS officer Garg, Walia and Rajbir Singh are on the run since, while the since-suspended kanungo and patwari are on interim bail that has now been challenged by the VB.
But Sumesh Jain, the lawyer for the three arrested men, said the VB was "cooking up a story". "Neither has the bureau produced the source of the so-called bribe money nor shown its destination. The signatures of my clients were also taken forcibly."
He said Jaswant (and another man named Ravdeep Singh) originally got the power of attorney of the land from Kiraninder, "the real scamster in this case". "It was Kiraninder who cheated my clients by giving them an illegal power of attorney of government property. But the VB has not even booked him. My clients paid Rs. 6 crore to Kiraninder, but are now suffering."
"It was the duty of the officers to check whether the land was private or government-owned," he contended, thus also defending Aggarwal, NP Singh (besides Devinder Singh) who 'bought' the land from Jaswant (and Ravdeep) on the basis of the power of attorney.
After the arguments, CJM Balwant Singh extended the police remand of the accused by a day. It is learnt that so far VB inspector general V Neerja and SSP Pritam Singh have interrogated the arrested accused.