The Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday set aside sale of 20 acres of land in Badhsa gram panchayat in Jhajjar district of Haryana, for Subash Ghai's proposed Whistling Woods Film Institute.
The division bench comprising acting chief justice Jasbir Singh and justice Rakesh Kumar Jain ordered Mukta Arts to restore the land back to the village panchayats and also gave directions to the panchayat to return an amount of Rs 8 crore it had received along with interest to Ghai's company.
The bench observed that the panchayat had illegally sold "shamlat land" which was "fertile and not barren" so it did not benefit the villagers.
Earlier, the Maharashtra high court on February 9, 2012 and Andhra Pradesh high court on January 27, 2010 had set aside respective state government's decisions of allotting 20 acres of land each to Ghai's film institute.
The directions came on a public interest litigation filed by a retired school teacher Nafe Singh of Badhsa village alleging that the village common land was sold to Ghai's private company in the guise of "public purpose".
The petitioner had said in its petition that the panchayat land situated on the border of Delhi and millennium city Gurgaon near to Kundli-Manesar express highway was sold to Ghai's Mukta Arts in the name of Whistling Woods for Rs 24.09 lakh per acre on September 30, 2010 whereas the total cost would be Rs 8.3 crore.
During the hearing of the case, panchayat sarpanch, who was present in the court, could not satisfy the court when asked about the panchayat's decision of selling the land and the utilisation of Rs 8 crore for the specific projects for village development. The bench also observed that Ghai's proposed film institute was not an educational institute that would benefit the villagers.
Alleging nepotism and discrimination, the petitioner apprised the bench that Haryana government's decision to grant permission to the gram panchayat to sell "shamlat land" (village common land) to Mukta Arts was in violation of rule 12 of the Punjab Village Common (Regulation) Rules, 1964 applicable also to Haryana.
Earlier, on May 29 the high court had restrained Badhsa gram panchayat from leasing out and transfer of land to the company and had later restrained the company from raising any construction at the site. Counsel appearing for Ghai's company had informed the bench that only the boundary wall had been constructed at the spot.