The land scam of Ludhiana district's Jhamat village, in which 18.5 acres of panchayat land (valued at Rs 180 crore today) was sold to private entities in 1994, has triggered a tussle in the rural development and panchayats department, Punjab.
Up in arms against the director, rural development and panchayats, Balwinder Singh Multani, deputy directors, additional deputy commissioners (ADCs, development), district development and panchayat officers (DDPOs) and block development and panchayat officers (BDPOs) across the state have proceeded on indefinite mass casual leave.
The decision was taken by the Punjab Rural Development Officers' Union after a state-level meeting held here on Tuesday.
Union president Pardeep Singh Kaleka said, "The director is the head of the department, thus the case file has to be put up by him before the minister. He should be removed from the post at the earliest as he is responsible for having sold panchayat land worth crores of rupees to private entities. Also, a high-level inquiry should be initiated against him."
The union members demanded action against then ADC (D) and the director, rural development and panchayats, in the Jhamat land scam, alleging that the duo was responsible for pronouncing the orders in favour of private parties.
Departmental inquiries had been initiated in the case after Hindustan Times took the lead in reporting the scam ('Two decades on, land scam remains under the carpet', June 18).
In addition to half a dozen inquiries conducted since 2007, eight fresh inquiries have been held in the past three months, following which rural development and panchayats minister Surjit Singh Rakhra told the director to take stern action.
The minister decided to chargesheet 20 DDPOs and BDPOs for their alleged involvement in the scam, but the union staged a protest against the decision and asked Rakhra to initiate action against Sumer Singh Gujjar, who was ADC (D) in Ludhiana in 2003; Sarabjit Singh, who was director, rural development and panchayats, in 2005; and the consolidation officer who was posted in Jalandhar in 1994.
But before the department could take action, the union declared "war" against the minister and the
Bid to malign my image: director
Addressing a press conference in SAS Nagar on Tuesday, Balwinder Singh Multani, director, rural development and panchayats, Punjab, said he was contemplating taking legal recourse against officers of his department for maligning his image by making false and baseless allegations.
Multani stated that action had been initiated against BDPO Dhanwant Singh Randhawa and DDPO Amardeep Bains for failing to protect the interests of panchayats.
"Since August 2011, I have decided 688 cases. These are the ones in which proceedings are already complete. We have 413 cases in which kabza (possession) warrants are pending. My mission is to get these executed," Multani added.
Ironically, the director had formed an inquiry committee under ADC (D), Ludhiana, Rishipal Singh last week, of which Randhawa and Bains were members.
A senior official from Rakhra's office said no chargesheet would be filed against Randhawa and Bains. "Randhawa has done a commendable work by procuring records that will be helpful in retrieving panchayat land," the official said.
Meanwhile, action against other BDPOs and DDPOs, too, has been put on hold.
Gurmukh Singh and Gurpal Singh, the whistleblowers in the case, have been frequently threatened. The former survived an attack by unidentified assailants last week, following which the police commissioner was requested to ensure security of the whistleblowers. A senior IPS officer has been assigned the job and a naka laid at the entry to the village.