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Mystery land deals on border with Pak

Someone has secretly bought the land on which the BSF has a conference hall near the Pak frontier; while someone else has snapped up the firing range at the Pokharan N-testing site. Neelesh Misra reports.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2008 02:41 IST
Neelesh Misra

Someone secretly bought the land on which the Border Security Force has a conference hall near the Pakistan frontier, where Indian and Pakistani commanders meet. Someone else snapped up the firing range at the Pokharan nuclear testing site. And stretches across the border fencing, in the No Man’s Land, have been sold as well.

Thousands of acres of land worth hundreds of crores has been sold along the frontier in the districts of Barmer and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. The swift and mysterious land deals over the past year included huge stretches reaching right up to the “Zero-Line”.

Even as authorities assess the motive behind the deals, the story took a murkier turn: several people listed as buyers in the registries were found not to exist.

“An investigation is on. I have issued a ban on the sale of land to outsiders anywhere within 20 kilometres of the border,” Subir Kumar, collector of Barmer district, told HT.

“I am getting a detailed report in two days on how the firing range at Pokharan was sold off — and whether it was owned by the person who sold it,” said Vinod Pandya, collector of Jaisalmer district where the firing range is located. Two tehsildars have been suspended by Rajasthan’s inspector-general for Registration and Stamps.

Hindustan Times has details of hundreds of such deals, listing the names of buyers, addresses of sellers, the “khasra” (land record) number, and the plot area sold. The buyers purportedly stretch across the country, from Bhatinda to Delhi to Lucknow to Mehsana (Gujarat) to Nirmal Nagar, Tamil Nadu.

But the people listed were found not to exist at several addresses. And in many instances, addresses of buyers on revenue records were incomplete (“1289, New Delhi”; or “Bhatinda, Punjab”, or just “Hisar, Haryana” or only “New Delhi” or “Kishen Nagar, New Delhi”). In a few cases, addresses were impossible, as in “Aligarh, Lucknow” that listed a city within a city.

The deals also violated an Indian government order of 1961 under which not even Indian citizens — other than the residents of the area — can venture into these border areas without permission. Breaking the rule is to get offenders a prison term of one year.

When word of the sweeping land deals broke about a month ago, a New Delhi-based company, Pearls Agrotech, claimed it owned large parts of the land — but alleged it had itself been duped into buying it along the border. Its legal adviser D.K. Sharma said the large-scale deals involving individual buyers had been done to bypass the state’s land ceiling laws.

“Under the land ceiling laws, one company could not have bought such a huge area of land. So our broker bought it from different buyers,” Sharma said. “But we don’t know why the broker bought land near the border. We have sent him a legal notice, asking him to return our money.”

Nitin Blaggan, SP, said Pearls Agrotech — apparently only one of the buyers — has told investigators they bought 48,000 acres of land. “The firm says they have spent about Rs 250 crore,” Blaggan said. “The land sold goes right up to the Zero Line.”

Local officials said it was unclear how a firm would spend Rs 250 crore on buying an expanse of arid, barren land without knowing where the plots were. It was also unclear to them why, if that were so, several addresses and buyers’ names do not match.

Sharma said he was not aware of any such irregularities.