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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Jhamat land scam: Whistleblowers suffer, sarpanch reinstated

Anshu Seth, Hindustan Times  Ludhiana, September 08, 2013
First Published: 19:07 IST(8/9/2013) | Last Updated: 22:06 IST(8/9/2013)

More than half a dozen inquiries followed by reports testifying the illegal sale of 18.5 acres of gram panchayat land at Jhamat village near here have come to no avail. Neither is the accountability fixed nor is the land retrieved. Instead a tainted woman sarpanch was reinstated.

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Since 2007, the office of the former director rural development and panchayats, Punjab; additional deputy commissioner (development), Ludhiana; block development and panchayat officer (BDPO), Ludhiana; have submitted reports on the matter. The land adjoining south city posh locality of Ludhiana is worth about Rs. 200 crore. A part of it is with real-estate developers and a part with private house owners.

The orders of former director director of panchayats Gurdev Singh Sidhu and former additional DC Rishipal Singh, which were for the filing of a fresh writ petition in the Supreme Court, have not been carried out. Punjab rural development minister Surjit Singh Rakhra also had directed the law officer of the rural development department, Sudagar Singh, recently to inquire into the matter.

In his inquiry report submitted on June 6, Saudagar had asked the director of rural development R Krishna Raju to file a case in the Supreme Court. The law officer wrote specifically that an administrator be appointed over the panchayat, yet Gurmeet Kaur, former sarpanch who had been suspended on November 15, 2012, was reinstated on June 18.

The price they paid
In complaints to minister Rakhra and the panchayat director, whistleblower Gurmukh Singh, had named members of the panchayat who had supported the scam. He was assaulted twice in the past one year, and once played dead to save himself.

In June, police picked up Gurmukh and his son, 25, on a false complaint by rivals that they had attacked some villagers during a clash. He was charged with house trespass, assault, wrongful restraint, criminal intimidation, inflicting injuries and involving two or more people in the crime.

He remained in jail for more than a week.

Under political pressure, another whistleblower, Gurpal Singh, withdrew from the case. He was named in false criminal cases and his brother, a government employee, was transferred repeatedly and intimidated to put pressure on Gurpal.

Panchayat's role
After losing the case in the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2004 , the panchayat remained silent for "928" days before challenging the decision in the Supreme Court (on January 31, 2007). The apex court pointed to the delay and dismissed the petition.

Having understood the panchayat's motives, former rural development department director Gurdev Singh Sidhu, having dismissed the panchayat already on August 30, 2007, asked the-then DDPO and BDPO to file a fresh writ petition in the Supreme Court. So far, nothing has been done.

He also dissolved the panchayat and made panch Charan Singh officiating sarpanch.


Case history
On December 13, 1992, Bhan Singh, sarpanch of Jhamat for two decades till 1990, and more than 60 other influential people had filed an appeal in the court of the Punjab consolidation officer that the land belonged to them. The case was referred to the consolidation officer of Sangrur and transferred to the consolidation officer in Jalandhar, Harbhajan Singh, in 1994. The-then sarpanch, Sukhpal

Singh, refuted the claims of these individuals but failed to produce any record in defence. The consolidation officer ruled that the land never belonged to the panchayat, giving possession to the 68 claimants.

Director aware
Rural development and panchayat department director R Krishna Raju confirmed that he was aware of the Jhamat land scam. "I have gone through the case details and will call both parties next week in my office," he said. "The department will abide by the Punjab Village Common Lands (regulation) Act and give the panchayat all support for retrieving the land," he added.

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