A Hoshiarpur panchayat’s decision to lease out 21 acres of shamlat land to the son of Punjab minister Sohan Singh Thandal has come under the judicial scanner.
Acting on the petition of a villager, Karam Singh, the high court bench of justices Mahesh Grover and Shekher Dhawan has put 14 respondents arrayed in petition (including Thandal, his son Ravinder Singh, several district officials and Panchayat members) on notice for November 10.
As per the petitioner, on February 27, 2015, cultivable shamlat land (21 acres) at Marula village in Garshankar was leased out to Thandal’s son for seven years at a rate of `2.51 lakh per annum.
Petitioner’s counsel Bhanu Pratap Singh told the court that the lease order was contrary to the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules-1964, aimed at favouring Thandal’s son. The court was told that as per Rule 9, Shamlat Deh land lease can’t exceed 10 acres, which in the said case was 21 acres. Out of the total shamlat land proposed to be leased, 1/3rd of the land has to be kept for Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes, but in the said case the same has not been done, the petition says.
Listing out other alleged violations, the court was told that as per rules, the auction process needs to be publicised at least 15 days in advance, specifying the description of land, the date, time and the place. However, none of these pre-requisite conditions were fulfilled at the time of leasing out of the said land, it was alleged.
“The entire process took place in violation of the rules. The lease order is only a paper transaction as nothing actually took place on the spot and the entire exercise was done to please the minister. The land can fetch much more rent than it was leased out for,” the petitioner said, alleging that there was no video of the process as panchayat members acted at the “behest” of the minister and his son.
It has also been argued that being cultivable land, the lease could not have been leased out for more than two years. The court was further told that auction was announced only an hour before the process started in the presence of only 20 persons. Block Development and Panchayat Officer (BDPO), Hoshiarpur, was not present and entire exercise took place in the presence of local secretary, it was alleged.
The petitioner has sought that the leasing order of the said land be revoked and the government be asked to order a probe into the case.