The state exchequer should brace for a loss to the tune of Rs 100 crore. The debt-ridden Punjab government is going to give its two constituents prime land in major districts for a throwaway price.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold prime land in Jalandhar, Pathankot, and Bathinda already, and various improvement trusts, under the local bodies department move, are busy completing the papers to give them more coveted residential property for 25% of the collector’s rate, split into four easy instalments.
The Barnala, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, and Moga civic trusts have passed resolutions for land allotment in prime localities. For the SAD, 1,100 square yards is picked in Bhai Mani Singh Nagar, Barnala; besides 2,000 sq yd at Ranjit Avenue, Amritsar, where private residential property costs Rs 35,000 per sq yd.
In Hoshiarpur, the allies have got a kanal of plot each, in prime sector near the mini secretariat. They have paid only `26 lakh each. Since the private land owner has moved court, physical possession is delayed, but the parties have submitted the first instalment.
An official dealing with the allotments said that the land is for the development of offices. “If the local bodies allot all these plots as written in the resolutions passed, the collective loss to the state exchequer would be about `100 crore,” he added.
The blue and saffron brigades are the only parties to get prime land for cheap. The others were not even invited to apply. The process was kept secret. The allotment policy made in 2009 and applied extensively in the second term of the Akali-BJP government was tweaked to favour the SAD and the BJP, and deny the Congress that, like them, is a recognised party with strong presence in the state.
“The fact that the Congress has offices in most of these districts goes against it. Similar riders also deprive the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and other Akali-BJP rivals,” said an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer holding additional charge of chairman of an improvement trust.
Squander in Jalandhar
In Jalandhar, the BJP received a 4-kanal commercial plot worth `19 crore at Surya Enclave on the Amritsar highway for only `54.5 lakh; and the SAD got 4 kanals in Nawanshahr for only 22.8 lakh, against the 2011 market rate of close to `2.42 crore. In Jalandhar alone, the allotment has caused a loss of `20 crore to the state exchequer, at a time when the state is under massive debt and taking new loans. The officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, accepted that the practice was wrong, adding: “It’s public money, so there should be some check. We are not selling plots to even weaker sections but throwing away prime land to rich parties.”
In spite of several attempts to contact them, local bodies minister Anil Joshi and department secretary Ashok Gupta were unavailable for comments. Local bodies director Priyank Bharti, however, confirmed that some resolutions had come to his office. “These conformed to the government policy, and nothing seems wrong, but the department is yet to take a final call,” he added.
“Political parties do need offices. The central government also allots them space based on where their mass base is. As far as the prices are concerned, those are very genuine, as this office is not for commercial activity but public service,” said state BJP president Kamal Sharma.
“The SAD has got all its plots under a legitimate policy that is uniform for all parties,” said Akali spokesman Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema, adding: “The land is not subsidised; we claimed it as democratic party, by applying with the district authorities concerned, which any other party could, for the same benefit.”
Under the tailor-made criteria, to apply for office land, only the parties recognised by the Election Commission of India are eligible and they must have at least a member in the state assembly. So only the SAD, the BJP, and the Congress qualify. Another rider is that the parties should not have existing offices in respective districts, which excludes the Congress as well.