Ther mound squatters: Archaeology dept raises red flag, Khemka objects to rehabilitation of encroachers on govt land
Relocation of squatters of Ther mound, an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected site in Sirsa, by providing them with Haryana Housing Board flats without any allotment letters and down payment has been disapproved by the state archaeology and museums department. The department contends that these families were unlawful tenants of government land and thus not entitled to be rehabilitated by way of providing housing by government agencies.
Objecting to the move to rehabilitate squatters, principal secretary archaeology and museums Ashok Khemka has said that all settlements on the said land were without legal sanction and therefore illegal.
“Ther Mound is a protected monument. A 1932 notification and Jamabandi of 1920-21 proves that government is owner of this land. There cannot be rehabilitation for illegal occupation of government land as the same offends the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act. The removal of such encroachers is not merely on account of a notification under Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 but because the said persons are in illegal occupation of government land,’’ Khemka has written. He also said that there was no option but to evacuate the encroachers. A weak decision will benefit offenders, unscrupulous contractors and corrupt officials of the Housing Board at the cost of public money.
HC had ordered retrieval of protected sites
In 2008, the Punjab and Haryana high court had ordered that Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and deputy commissioners of the districts in Haryana and Punjab will get ancient or protected monument or property attached thereto retrieved from the encroachers in accordance with the law. The HC had also ordered that the ASI, with the assistance of the district administration shall further ensure that no part of the ancient or protected monument in possession of the encroachers or otherwise is damaged, defaced, altered or impaired, till such encroachments are removed.
Subsequently, the Haryana government had set in motion the process to relocate the families who had illegally occupied the Mound in Sirsa.
Following chief minister ML Khattar’s orders, an in principle decision was taken by the cabinet on March, 2019 that archaeology and museums department will purchase houses from the Housing Board for rehabilitation of persons displaced from the Mound site. The terms and conditions for allotment, including payment to be made by the allottees, will be finalised by the Housing Board and approved by the competent authority. The administration of allotments and subsequent actions shall be undertaken by Housing Board on behalf of archaeology and museums department and the budget required for the purpose will be sought by the archaeology and museums department from the finance department.
Khemka objects to housing board note
On December 5, 2019, the Housing Board sought payment of around ₹137 crore for 788 flats in Sector 19, Sirsa from the archaeology and museums department. This was at the rate of ₹17.43 lakh per flat, according to the file noting, against the original advertised price of ₹7.50 lakh.
Raising an objection to the demand, Khemka said the archaeology and museums department was not in the business of rehabilitating encroachers of government land, which is also a protected monument of national importance. “Such a policy will facilitate illegal use of public money. Its adoption would require amendment in the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act by creating a category of encroachers of government land who instead of being punished will be rewarded with a flat,’’ he wrote.
“Due to poor construction quality and inflated allotment price only five allottees have retained the allotment. The remaining 1,255 flats lay unsold. The unsold inventory at Sirsa is enough to make the Housing Board turn insolvent. We are looking at a huge scam which is now sought to be covered using public money to rehabilitate the encroachers of government land,’’ Khemka wrote. He further wrote that if the prescription of finance department to transfer public money to the Housing Board is followed, the public will be the loser. There will be no recovery of even a cent of public money.
The principal secretary also sought information from Housing Board and Sirsa deputy commissioner on the status of occupants who have been given flats. “Record has been sought to establish the correct number of flats used either by the archaeology and museums department or Sirsa DC to shift encroachers from Ther Mound,’’ Khemka has asked.
People residing on Mound will get respite: Govt
The state government on the other hand has said in the past that thousands of harried and helpless people residing on the Mound for decades will heave a sigh of relief following the decision to rehabilitate them. “Due to negligence of previous governments, many people had migrated to this place from Western Pakistan in 1947. They have no place and no means of livelihood. Some started living on Ther Mound and gradually economically backward made houses on Ther Mound. The Mound had more than 3,000 houses with a population of 15,000 to 20,000.