Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's silence over the cancellation of land allotted to filmmaker Prakash Jha has raised many eyebrows in Bihar's political and social circles.
In a jolt to Jha as well as the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government, the Patna High Court on Monday quashed the allotment of plots in the state's industrial areas to Jha's Holi Cow Pictures Pvt Ltd. for construction of multiplexes and malls.
The court, however, observed that the government could consider fresh applications made with a proper project report and supportive documents for allotment of lands. This gives Jha an opportunity to come up with fresh applications.
On a PIL filed by Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Prem Chand Mishra, a division bench comprising Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Rekha Kumari directed the Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority (BIADA) to take back the possession of the plots.
A section of activists described the episode as a setback to "Nitish brand" of urban centric development.
Sources close to the chief minister said that he was upset and embarrassed because it would send a wrong signal to all those who were keen to invest in the state.
"Nitish Kumar's agenda for development hit a roadblock if the Jha project is any thing," a senior ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader said. It was Kumar who invited Jha early this year to invest in the state.
Opposition leaders alleged that the chief minister showed blatant favour to Jha.
A few months ago soon after the PIL was filed, Kumar was first to come in support of Jha and dismissed the opposition demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into it.
Mishra alleged that all norms had been violated to favour Jha by selling the land at throwaway price.
Samata Party president PK Sinha first raised the issue while Rabri Devi's Rashtriya Janata Dal took it up in the monsoon session of the assembly.
Sinha alleged the state government had allotted one acre of land for Rs.1.46 million to the filmmaker for constructing multiplexes. "The actual market price of the land is Rs.48 million," he said.
Jha's company was also allotted 1.18 acres of land in Hajipur near Patna much below the market rates. Another plot of 1.64 acres in Muzaffarpur was given to the filmmaker at a very low cost.
Jha said he planned to set up multiplexes, ultra-modern medical colleges and hospitals in the state. He also announced plans to build a four-lane highway between Vaishali and Muzaffarpur districts in north Bihar and expressed his desire to turn the Mata Janki Kunwar Hospital in Bettiah into a full-fledged medical college.
Jha, who hails from a village near Bettiah, campaigned for Nitish Kumar's JD (U) during the assembly polls in 2005.