Murky panchayat land deals: SC says no to annul tribunal; issue back in high court

  • Prabhjit Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 09, 2015 09:29 IST

The Punjab government is in a bind on what to do with the Justice Kuldip Singh tribunal that it formed three years ago to probe the murky transactions of the village common lands across the state, as the Supreme Court has disposed of the state’s petition without the nod to annul the tribunal.

“This special leave petition becomes infructuous and is disposed of as such,” stated the two-page order of the apex court’s double bench, comprising Justice Anil R Dave and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, dated February 6, disposing the SLP that had sought the tribunal’s annulment.

The apex court also highlighted the state’s commitment in the Punjab and Haryana high court to implement the recommendations of the tribunal in its interim reports.

The onus now is on the high court to decide the fate of the non-functional panel that was constituted on the directions of the high court in May 2012. The tribunal became non-functional in February 2013, just nine months after its inception with no further extension in its term, as the state took the plea that it had moved the apex court for its annulment.

The tribunal had merely submitted its two interim reports on the murky transactions of panchayat lands in the periphery of Chandigarh only — the huge task of probing such cases across the state is still lying untouched.

The matter now is scheduled for hearing in the high court on April 24, for the first time after the apex court disposed of the state’s SLP.

The state government is yet to review its stand that it ought to take in the high court, Punjab financial commissioner revenue (FCR) Karan Avtar Singh told HT, while revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia remained inaccessible despite several attempts.

A senior state counsel in the Punjab advocate general (AG) office, who has been handling the case, said the state would like to wait for further directions of the high court on the issue.

“Let the high court take a call on it (apex court order),” she said.

Affidavit of assurance to court gathers dust

The Punjab government has shelved its own affidavit, submitted in the high court in April 2013 by the then FCR NS Kang, promising to implement the tribunal’s recommendations, notwithstanding its plea in the Supreme Court for the tribunal’s annulment.

The matter had then caught the political heat with the opposition Congress forcing revenue minister Bikram Majithia to explain the entire matter of the murky land deals and its standing in the tribunal in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

Appointing ‘special officers’ and ‘special attorneys’ in all districts, re-opening the cases involving fraud as identified in the tribunal report, constitution of a special bench in the high court to monitor such cases and action against the erring officials were the main assurances mentioned in the state’s affidavit.

Action awaited on Mohali report

Meanwhile, no action has been taken to reclaim the lands grabbed by the identified high-ups, including politicians, bureaucrats and police officers, as identified by the three-member committee that probed the alleged illegal mutations of the panchayat lands in Mohali district adjoining Chandigarh.

Over a year back, the three-member committee chaired by the then rural development and panchayat director S Karuna Raju had submitted its probe report in the high court, identifying such cases.

Most of these cases, now understood to have been probed by the Karuna Raju committee, had originally surfaced in the Dr Chandershekhar report, and then taken up by the Justice Kuldip Singh tribunal in its interim reports.

Dr Chandershekhar had submitted 13 interim reports, the last in November 10, 2010, to the state government with no action even after four and a half years.

Ministerial committees, too, meant nothing

The state government had also notified two “ministerial committees”, to identify and probe the illegal land deals of the village panchayats and urban local bodies (municipal committees and corporations) all over the state nearly two years ago. But the move remained cosmetic, with the revenue department not moving an inch on it.
While revenue minister Bikram Majithia could not be contacted, senior revenue officials were tight-lipped on the issue.

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