Sensing a political opportunity against Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa, two ministers in the state's Akali-BJP regime are promising to implement the recommendations of a tribunal the validity of which their government has challenged in the Supreme Court.
Revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia and rural development and panchayats minister Surjit Singh Rakhra have committed verbally to implementing the recommendations of Justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal, which has named the state's "high and mighty" in its two interim reports on illegal occupation of panchayat land in the periphery of Chandigarh.
Bajwa also has questioned why the special leave petition (SLP) was filed. Submitted in August last year, the SLP challenges the Punjab and Haryana high court order for constituting the tribunal. More than a year later, the respondents, who include the stakeholders in the 'shamlat' land of Mubarakpur village in Mohali district mainly, seem least interested in defending the case in the apex court now. "It is a very costly affair," said Kuldeep Singh, main respondent on behalf of the villagers.
Punjab, significantly, did not make the high court a respondent in its special leave petition (SLP) in which it challenged the high court's jurisdiction in ordering the constitution of the tribunal.
Probe, so far
The land deals first came to light in 2007 when the high court assigned senior IPS officer Chander Shekhar to investigate the assets of "high ups in police and other departments in and around Chandigarh". In three years, the officer, now retired, submitted 10 interim reports, which are gathering dust since December 2010. In May 2012, the high court formed Justice Kuldip Singh Tribunal to identify the 'shamlat' lands' illegal occupants. The tribunal has since filed two interim reports but there's no follow-up action.
Why not withdraw SLP?
In order to sustain the assurances given by Majithia for action on the tribunal's two interim reports, the government needs to only withdraw the SLP to keep the tribunal's sanctity.
Even otherwise, the SLP does not debar the government from implementing the recommendations. Majithia had also cited excerpts from the tribunal's report in the last Vidhan Sabha session and promised to implement it, irrespective of the political affiliations of the people named.
In the SLP filed on August 16, 2012, the state has argued that the high court's order of May 29, 2012 (for constitution of the tribunal) is "erroneous" and it "affects various public projects and the rights of private parties whose cases are pending". The petition did not mention any of these "public projects", though it claimed there were 136.
The SLP argued that the fragmentation of the 'shamlat' land of Mubarakpur village for individual sale deeds could not be questioned, as the deals were signed before 2007 (when the East Punjab Holding (Consolidation and Prevention of Fragmentation) Act 1948 was amended to prevent similar agreements).
The tribunal's mandate was to look into all similar cases across the state.
Tribunal's office wound up
The tribunal awaits extension from the high court after July. Its leader, justice Kuldip Singh, is unwilling to continue, citing "health reasons", but it had two other members, BR Gupta and PN Aggarwal. The tribunal ceased to function in August and the state government wound up its office after submitting the second interim report in the high court on July 15.
(Tomorrow: Conspiracy of silence)