The Punjab Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau on Wednesday made a special investigating team (SIT) to find out who is behind the multi-crore-rupee land-acquisition scam in Hoshiarpur.
Deputy inspector general (DIG) of police (vigilance, Chandigarh) Shiv Kumar Verma will lead the team that includes Ludhiana senior superintendent of police (vigilance) Rupinder Singh and Jalandhar superintendent of police (vigilance) Praveen Kanda. A series of HT reports since June 23 had exposed the scam, forcing the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to direct Punjab additional chief secretary NS Kalsi to hold an inquiry.
HT was the first to report how politically well-connected land sharks had first bought the 100-acre land notified for acquisition for a throwaway price and then received hefty compensation. On June 24, a day after the first report, the state government had transferred Hoshiarpur subdivisional magistrate (SDM) Anand Sagar Sharma, tehsildar Baljinder Singh, and naib tehsildar Manjit Singh. It had put the vigilance bureau (VB) on the case but formed the SIT only on Wednesday.
The team will look into the role of high-profile Hoshiarpur leaders of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), who are said to be together in the scandal with public officials and land mafia. Relatives of Hoshiarpur Akali leaders had bought this road-project land worth Rs 100-crore dirt cheap from farmers. After RTI activist Rajiv Vashisht took the matter to the PMO, submitting clippings of the HT reports along with other evidence, an inquiry order followed. The SIT will submit its report in six weeks.
Ever since the scam came to light, opposition leader of the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have been gunning for the Akali government, demanding that the case be moved to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Akali leaders, including Hoshiarpur Market Committee chairman Avtar Singh Johal, councillor Harpinder Gill, and district co-operative bank chairman Satwinder Pal Singh Dhatt were among those who had bought the land notified for the four-laning of the road with property rights already transferred to the National Highway Authority of Indian (NHAI) on November 2, 2015. Later, they allegedly built illegal colonies on these sites and pocketed crores of rupees in compensation.