The Himachal Pradesh vigilance and anti-corruption bureau has recommended that the state government confiscate around 15 acres of land owned by Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan as the land has not been used for the purpose it was bought for.
The BJP government had in February 2010 allowed the Kumud Bhushan Educational Society, headed by the anti-corruption campaigner, to buy the tea-estate land at Kandwari near Palampur in Kangra district to open an educational institution within two years of purchase. This despite a total ban on the sale of tea gardens in the state to non-agriculturists.
The Congress had objected and ordered a probe in March 2013 when it came to power.
Bhushan said the Congress government was trying to hit back at him for filing a writ petition against chief minister Virbhadra Singh in a corruption case. “After the petition, the government has suddenly found there has been a violation of rules,” he told HT.
“The enquiry found permission was granted to purchase 122 kanal (15.25 acres, as 1 kanal equals one-eighth of an acre) of tea estate land to run an educational institute within two years. But no school or college exists. However, an educational institute, Shambhawana, exists, which is not affiliated to any university or board. Hence, the society violated… rules and the land is required to be confiscated to the account of the Himachal government,” DIG AP Singh, head of the vigilance bureau, wrote to the state government on December 25.
His letter was based on a report submitted by the vigilance bureau’s Inspector Randhir Singh on September 23, 2013. The report, which HT has accessed, said Shambhawna did not come under the definition of an educational institute as per the rules of the directorate of higher education, according to which an educational institute has to be affiliated to a university or board.
“Short workshops, camps and seminars are being conducted in this institute. But no school or college is found on the spot,” the report states, adding that while an educational institution requires only 22 kanal (2.75 acres) of land, the society purchased 122 kanal.
Bhushan said the vigilance report was malafide and would not stand in court. “There is no basis for confiscation,” he added. On why his society did not use the land to run an educational institution, he said, “It is simply impossible to build an institute in two years.” In his writ petition filed in November 2013, Bhushan had accused Virbhadra of corruption, stating there were income-tax returns and affidavits that linked him to dubious transactions and investments involving large sums of money during his tenure as union steel minister in 2009-11.
When contacted, Himachal principal secretary, revenue, Tarun Shridhar said legal proceedings were on in the district magistrate’s court in Kangra, adding, “Any action will be taken after and as per the final decision of the district magistrate.” Revenue minister Kaul Singh Thakur and the chief minister’s office could not be reached for comment.
(Inputs from HTC, Chandigarh)