The political heat generated by land deals of Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa and his family are likely to gather steam with revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia asking the department of rural development and panchayats to cancel the registry of 108 bighas of land bought by the state Congress chief at Bhronjian village of Mohali.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Majithia said, "Since shamlat land falls in purview of the department of panchayats, I have spoken to the minister (Surjit Rakhra) to cancel the registry. There was not only evasion of stamp duty and income tax in the land deal, but also contempt of court as Bajwa bought the land in 2011 after the Punjab and Haryana high court had given an order for status quo on its ownership way back in 2004. We will also take action against the revenue officials involved in preparing the registry.
Since I did not want to be accused of political vendetta, while concluding my statement in the assembly, I had said that starting with Bajwa, we would take action against all those found guilty of usurping shamlat land, be it Akalis, Congressmen or others. But neither leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar nor any Congress MLA got up to support my statement."
However, the firebrand minister would have to first contend with his own government to cancel the registry. When contacted, Rakhra said they would not go piecemeal but probe illegal occupation of shamlat land across the state. "We will take a call (on Bajwa's land) after conducting an inquiry and taking legal opinion as the matter is sub-judice. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has said that all such deals will be probed and I have directed my department to initiate an inquiry. We will go beyond the Justice Kuldip Singh tribunal report to unearth all illegal occupation of panchayat land. There cannot be two sets of rules for taking action against the guilty," Rakhra said.
Meanwhile, Majithia on Thursday fired yet another salvo at Bajwa saying the bank cheques shown by the PCC president at the press conference were subsequent to the purchase of land. "Normally, a land registry also mentions the mode of payment. Nowhere does the registry mention that the payment was made through cheques," he added.
Bajwa, at the press conference, had said that he had paid Rs 2.98 crore for the land as it was forest land and could be used only for agricultural purposes. The village falls in the realty hotspot of New Chandigarh and the government acquisition rate in the area was Rs 1.3 crore in 2011, the year Bajwa bought the land. The market value of land in the area shot up after government acquisition. Even going by the acquisition rate, the 27 acres should have cost Bajwa around Rs 35 crore.
Ball still in HC court
Can the Punjab government cancel Bajwa's land registry? According to legal experts, the ball is still in the HC's court. "Since there was no stay or injunction ordered by the high court on creating a third party right but a status quo, the registry cannot be cancelled.
The third party bought it at its own risk and will have to give up the land if the court upholds the order of then director of panchayats who, while exercising his powers of the commissioner, had held that the land title was shamlat," a legal expert said. Bajwa, at the press conference, had said that he did not know that the land title was sub-judice while buying the land and that he would surrender it if the HC order was "not favourable".