Despite more than 10 years and several inquiries — conducted by the officials from the block development and panchayat officer (BDPO) to the director of the rural development department — reiterating facts about the 18.5-acre government land scam in Jhamat village near here, the whole exercise seemed futile as the land is yet to be freed from encroachment.
The land, adjoining the city, is estimated to be worth 200 crore. Finally, though, the whistleblowers’ efforts seem to be bearing some fruit.
In a civil writ petition filed against the director, rural development, and 75 others in the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2004, the court on March 25 last has given a favourable decision.
It has quashed the orders of the then additional deputy commissioner (ADC), development, passed in 2004, wherein he had said that the land in question did not belong to the panchayat.
The then ADC (D) Sumer Singh Gurjar had passed the orders with reference to orders of consolidation authorities given in favour of private entities in 1994.
Those orders were given with reference to section 42 of the East Punjab Holding (Consolidation and prevention of fragmentation) Act of 1948.
But the HC bench comprising justices Hemant Gupta and Harjinder Singh Sidhu ruled on March 25 that the state government had no jurisdiction to divide the land carved out at the time of consolidation.
“Consolidation authorities are tribunals of limited jurisdiction and exercise powers of revenue officers under 1887 Act… a power to record and update fiscal enteries and prepare record of rights… but are not empowered to decide a question of title or vest/divest a party of its title.”
The bench also stated that orders passed by the collector and the commissioner were not sustainable. The court has now directed the deputy commissioner-cum-collector to decide the case in accordance with the law.
DC Rajat Agarwal, when contacted, said he will look into the matter at the earliest, adding that the powers of collector as per the rural development department were with the district development and panchayat officer (DDPO).
DDPO Baljit Singh Kainth told HT: “Orders for vacation of the land have been issued. I shall review the matter after the Lok Sabha poll counting is over (on May 16).”
The whistleblowers in the matter were villagers Gurmukh Singh, Gurpal Singh and Amar Singh, who have actually been fighting the battle to free the land since 2004. Facing resistance due to the culprits’ political patronage, Gurmukh and Gurpal were allegedly implicated in false cases and had to remain behind bars.
They were attacked on a number of occasions but did not get security even after orders of the high court. Last year, Gurpal quit the fight after his family members, including his brother, were allegedly assaulted. But Gurmukh and Amar have carried on.
The land adjoining South City, a posh locality of Ludhiana, is worth about R 200 crore. A part of it is with realty developers and another with private houseowners. Orders of former director (panchayats) Gurdev Singh Sidhu and former Ludhiana ADC Rishipal Singh, for filing a fresh writ in the Supreme Court to get the land back for the panchayat, have not been carried out.
Rural development minister Surjit Singh Rakhra had directed the law officer of the department recently to inquire into the matter; that report, submitted on June 6 last, had also asked department director R Krishna Raju to file a case in the SC.
The law officer wrote specifically that an administrator be appointed over the panchayat, yet Gurmeet Kaur, the sarpanch who had been suspended on November 15, 2012, was reinstated and remains in the chair.
Since the HC has now quashed the ADC’s orders of handing the land to private individuals, the ball is now in the DC’s court to decide the matter as per law defined by the high court.