The scam in land acquisition for the Hoshiarpur city bypass road, involving three local Akali leaders, property dealers and government officials, is worth more than Rs 100 crore, it has emerged.
In investigations by HT, it has come to the fore that the three leaders of Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) — Hoshiarpur Market Committee chairman Avtar Singh Johal, councillor Harpinder Gill and district co-operative bank chairman Satwinder Pal Singh Dhatt — and some realty dealers purchased the land that was already notified for the four-laning project, after its property rights had been transferred to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on November 2, 2015.
In a bigger illegal help by officials, the Akali leaders were paid higher compensation for the agricultural land by showing it as residential or commercial land. The Land Acquisition Act says compensation to a party is paid after the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) and NHAI officials concerned personally visit the property and verify it.
Here’s how it worked:
MULTIPLYING Rs 2.2 CR INTO Rs 28 CRORE
A 442-marla chunk of notified land at Piplanwala falling under Hoshiarpur civic body area was bought by Amritpal Singh Gill, son of SAD councillor Harpinder Singh Gill; realtor Prateek Gupta and one Anju Aggarwal, from two families at a rate of Rs 50,000 per marla over a period of eight months. The last registry of some part of the land was made on April 20, 2016, and the total investment was Rs 2.2 crore.
The same chunk was acquired by the government for Rs 28 crore by showing it as a residential colony on April 30. That is Rs 6.3 lakh a marla — over 12 times what they bought it for.
When the HT team that visited the site, there was a boundary wall at the so-called “residential colony”, which, the villagers said, was raised only a few days back. “It’s barren land. Only a few days back, we saw labourers constructing the mud wall. I got to know that the NRI owners of the land were misled by the local property dealers that the government will acquire their land cheap,” said Avtar Singh, who himself had fallen into the trap and sold a part of his land to the land sharks.
There is also no record with the civic body to establish that the site was an approved residential colony at any time. About 10 feet away, a portion of fertile land owned by farmers of Dagana Kalan was acquired by the government at a rate of Rs 25,000 per marla.
GOT SIX TIMES THE PRICE FROM GOVT
At Piplanwala village, 26 plots from an illegal colony already notified for the road near Ravi Colony were purchased by SAD councillor Harpinder Singh Gill, his wife Harjinder Kaur, mother Satnam Kaur, son Amritpreet Gill, brother Rupinder Gill, sister-inlaw Hardeep Kaur, nephew Simranjit Singh (an actor) and niece Poonam Gill and brotherin-law Manjot Singh.
In the same colony, senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader and co-operative bank chairman Satwinder Pal Singh Dhatt, his wife Sukhwinder Kaur and Hoshiarpur Market Committee chairman Avtar Singh Johal’s son Navjot Singh also purchased plots of 10 marlas each.
All these purchases were made between February 9 and April 29, 2016m at an average rate of Rs 70,000 per marla.
In total, 198 marlas of land purchased by Akali leaders and their family members for Rs 1.38 crore was acquired by the government for Rs 12.8 crore.
STREET ACQUIRED FOR Rs 2.5 CRORE!
The 24-foot street in the colony left by the original coloniser was also acquired by the government by showing it as a plot belonging to Gill’s sister-in-law Hardeep Kaur for Rs 2.52 crore.
Rs 6 LAKH A MARLA FOR AKALI LEADERS, Rs 20,000 FOR OTHERS
At Hardo Khanpur village, 129 marla land owned jointly by Johal’s wife Barinderjit Kaur, Gill’s close relative Manjot Singh and realtor Tilak Raj Gupta’s son Arun Gupta, was acquired at Rs 7.74 crore (Rs 6 lakh per marla).
Documents showed that Gupta’s son, who is a shareholder in this colony with the Johals, also bought land in the same colony on January 19, 2016 after it was notified for the project. Within 10 days, he received the compensation.
Just next to the same “residential colony”, land measuring 102 marlas registered in the name of Tilak Raj Gupta was also acquired for the project for Rs 6.12 crore.
Ironically, the land in another 254-marla colony in the area where none of the said Akali leaders owned a plot was acquired for Rs 50.8 lakh at a rate of Rs 20,000 per marla.
In Singdiwala village too, similar partiality was witnessed where a 25-marla plot owned by Johal outside a car showroom was acquired at commercial rate for Rs 3.24 crore (Rs 6 lakh per marla). Ajay Aggarwal, a property owner who got much less, said, “A 26-marla plot owned by me next to the same showroom was acquired at a rate of Rs 70,000 per marla. I am filing a complaint with the Jalandhar divisional commissioner.”
Records show that wherever Akali leaders did not have stakes, the acquisition rates were low. The land belonging to residents of Dagana Kalan, Dagana Khurd, Buapur, Mandiana, Lasrala and Chakk Gujran was acquired at much cheaper rates.
SCAM IN NUTSHELL
The land sharks started buying chunks already notified for a road four-laning project by spreading rumours that the government is going to pay the owners peanuts. To jack up the rates, the new owners with the help of government officials got the status of the land changed from agricultural to residential or commercial. This way, land bought at a rate of as low as Rs 50,000 per marla was acquired by the government for as high a rate as Rs 6 lakh per marla.
LAND ACT LACKS CLARITY?
In the November 2, 2015, notification, the SDM concerned writes: “In this notification in the official gazette perusal of sub section (2) of the Section 3(d) of the National Highways Act, 1956, the Central Government hereby declares that on publication of this notification in the official gazette, the land specified in the said schedule, shall rest absolutely in the Central Government, free from all encumbrances.”
Still, the officials are claiming that the Act is not clear if the land notified for the project can be sold till it is actually acquired by the NHAI.
In his defence, SDM Anand Sagar Sharma said the National Highways Act was not clear if land already notified for acquisition could be sold or not.
“Sale and purchase of registries are looked after by the revenue officials. My job as the nodal officer is to give compensation to the present owner. If there are certain cases where people showed agricultural land as residential, we will review them,” said the SDM.
DC Anindita Mitra also said the Act was not clear on the issue.