Over 18 months after the Punjab government assured the Punjab and Haryana high court, that a committee had been formed to probe illegal transactions of common panchayat land in villages across SAS Nagar district, the state revenue department has re-notified the committee. Now, the entire work would start afresh.
As per the re-notification that came into force on June 1, the 5-member committee will prepare a village-wise inventory of panchayat land of SAS Nagar. It will ascertain the current status, identify people who have usurped the panchayat land through various means and suggest measures for retrieval.
The committee has been specifically asked to “initiate appropriate action, in accordance with the law to rectify the irregularities that have been identified by the justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal in respect of 38 villages and all villages of sub-tehsil Majri so that the land wrongfully distributed among private persons can be retrieved for the panchayats.
Justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal was notified in August 2013 on high court directions to look into the illegal transactions of the common panchayat land in the name of private people across Punjab.
It became non-functional after submitting its two interim reports only, after six months of its inception as its tenure was not extended.
The new committee replaces a 3-member committee formed earlier. It includes director, rural development and panchayats; special secretary/additional director/joint secretary, revenue; district revenue officer (DRO); district development and panchayat officer (DDPO), Mohali, and Kharar tehsildar.
Ironically, director, rural development and panchayats C Siben went on training from June 1 to July 15.
Reasons for annulment
“We have annulled the earlier committee because it was by name and not by designation, as required,” Punjab financial commissioner revenue (FCR) Karan Avtar Singh told HT.
“Our DRO (of Mohali) is already on the job,” the FCR said, when asked whether the committee would be able to submit its report within the June 30 deadline. To measure the progress, HT contacted the Mohali DRO, who claimed to have prepared detailed inventories of panchayat lands of the 38 villages mentioned in the justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal report only. The DRO, Amardeep Singh Thind, said this list of the 38 villages had been made on priority for its mention in the tribunal report, and subsequently sent to the DDPO who, he said, would be detecting the irregularities “with the help of the revenue officials in the field”.
Such land on prime locations along the Siswan-Mullanpur road and in the vicinity of Chandigarh on the Chandigarh-Ambala highway have market value of more than Rs 2 crore per acre.
Earlier homework in vain
An earlier 3-member committee under A Karuna Raju had submitted its preliminary report covering some 80 villages, including the 38 mentioned in justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal report.
Sources in the state’s rural development and panchayat department told HT that one such report prepared by the earlier committee was submitted to the revenue department for follow-up action in the wake of the litigation that the state government faced in the high court, pertaining to the fate of the justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal and the retrieval of such illegally transacted panchayat lands at large all over the state. The villages covered by the earlier committee mainly included Majri block in Kharar sub-division.
The FCR however said no such report had been marked to him.
The DRO stated that he had no instructions whether to look for and include any such findings of the earlier committee.
Panchayat lands still unsafe?
As this prolonged exercise, seemingly cosmetic, to identify and retrieve such illegally transacted or encroached panchayat land continues, the state’s joint development commissioner (JDC) GS Ghuman had decided over 100 disputes of the panchayat land in favour of private parties in the last 5 months, principal secretary A Venu Prasad here confirmed.
“Appeals in all these cases will be filed on behalf of the gram panchayats and the department (rural development and panchayat) in the high court,” he told HT. These appeals would be filed within a month as per the Punjab Village Common lands Act, he added.
In a unique case, HT recently reported that a huge chunk of village common forest land of Mirzapur in the Shivalik hills was plundered for the ‘khair’ wood worth over Rs 10 crore with the connivance of the officials of the revenue, rural development and panchayat and forest departments.
“The inquiry in that case was still on with the forest department,” said principal secretary, rural development and panchayat, A Venu Prasad.