Finally, Punjab vigilance and anti-corruption bureau has registered a first-information report (FIR) against Punjab Civil Services (PCS) officer Anand Sagar Sharma and 12 others, including revenue officials and Akali leaders from Hoshiarpur, in a scam in the acquisition of land for a national highway. SAD leaders allegedly made crores by colluding with local officials and the land mafia, by showing illegal residential colonies on the 100 acres to get compensation.
The probe — that has nailed all those who were exposed in a series of reports by the Hindustan Times in June last year — has found that the Sharma, who was then the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Hoshiarpur, “colluded” with revenue officials and SAD leaders to “illegally” sell the land that was already notified for acquisition.
The FIR was registered by the economic offences wing of the VB in Ludhiana on Friday evening, under section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant), 420 (cheating), 467, 468 and 471 (forgery), besides 120-B (criminal conspiracy), of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); and under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Sharma is at present the SDM of Gidderbaha, since his transfer after the HT exposé.
The busting of the scam — activist Rajiv Vashisht is the whistleblower — had led to the chief minister’s office ordering the VB probe, while the prime minister’s office had also taken cognisance and ordered a separate probe. The SAD leaders booked in the case include Hoshiarpur market committee chairman Avtar Singh Johal, councillor Harpinder Gill, and district co-operative bank chairman Satwinder Pal Singh Dhatt. And the “land sharks” named as accused are Devi Ram, Jaswinder Pal Singh and Prateek Gupta. “Hand in glove with the land owners, Akalis purchased notified agriculture land and officials helped them to sell that land to the National Highways Authority of India on commercial rates,” says the probe.
“The SDM’s role as nodal officer for land acquisition of the national highway was unfair and full of doubts from the beginning,” reads the 19-page report prepared by the VB team. The revenue officials booked include the then tehsildar, Hoshiarpur, Baljinder Singh, then naib tehsildar Manjeet Singh, patwaris Daljeet Singh and Parminder Singh, clerk Sandeep Kumar, and registry clerk Sukhwinder Jeet Singh.
The probe says it’s a “wellplanned” conspiracy of buying already-notified land for construction of new bypass for the four-laning of the HoshiarpurChintpurni road, when the property rights were already transferred to the NHAI on November 2, 2015.
Headed by VB inspector general Shiv Kumar Verma, the special investigation team (SIT) took nearly six months to complete the probe. Sources said it got delayed due to political pressures and technical issues, and the FIR was ordered after the polls in order to avoid political backlash. Ludhiana senior superintendent of police (vigilance) Rupinder Singh and Jalandhar superintendent of police (vigilance) Praveen Kanda were other members of the probe team.