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Suspicious Himachal land deals under scanner

A probe is under way in Himachal Pradesh into all the land and property transactions effected on the basis of general power of attorney (GPA), officials said here Monday.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2013 15:02 IST

A probe is under way in Himachal Pradesh into all the land and property transactions effected on the basis of general power of attorney (GPA), officials said here Monday.

The aim is to find out case of violation of statutory provisions of Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act of 1972 that prohibits even non-agriculturist Himachalis from buying land in the state.

"All the deputy commissioners have been asked to identify property transactions where the investment, especially in the real estate, has been made by outsiders (non-Himachalis) but the property originally belongs to a local," a revenue official told IANS.

He said all those transactions that have taken place in the recent past on the basis of the GPA would come under scrutiny.

"In many cases real estate projects have come up in the name of local residents while the investment is actually made by big realtors. This drive will at least help in identifying them. The government will even go for vesting those properties," Revenue Minister Kaul Singh Thakur told IANS.

Revenue department records suggest that 19,440 land transactions took place in the state from March 2008 to November 2011. In 1,796 cases out of these, the buyers were non-Himachalis.

The maximum number of sale deeds executed on the basis of GPA were in Una district (4,493), adjoining Punjab, followed by Kangra (3,946) and Solan (3,579).

Official sources said the hill state has three types of land - agricultural, urban and forest.

"The urban land is scanty and its value is too high. So illegal attempts are made to construct hotels and luxury housing projects on agricultural land. A large number of multi-storeyed apartments have come up on the outskirts of popular destinations like Kasauli, Shimla, Dharamsala and Manali," said a revenue official.

Unlike Punjab and Haryana, there is no permission required for land use change in the state.

To check frequent sale and purchase of a pieces of commercial land in Himachal Pradesh, the government should impose a moratorium for 10 years, according to a commission appointed by the state government.

"Every third day we read in newspapers that the land mafia is active...During the perusal of cases during 2003-2011, the commission has observed that there are certain persons who have purchased land in bulk and sold to industrialists within a period of six months to three years," said D.P. Sood, former judge of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, who headed the commission.

The government constituted the one-man commission to probe 'benami' (illegal) land transactions in the state during 2003-11 and look into violations of statutory provisions and administrative procedures.

In his report in March last year, Sood named 22 people who were involved in frequent land purchase and sale.

"They purchased land in bulk, either in their own name or obtained GPAs in Baddi, Barotiwala, Nalagarh and Kala Amb in advance and sold it to the different industrialists," said the report.

Baddi, Barotiwala and Nalagarh in Solan district and Kala Amb in Sirmaur district are the prominent industrial belts in the state.

The commission said such people purchase the land with the sole objective of speculation. "They purchase land in bulk at cheap rates and then sell it at higher rates to industrialists. In this process, both the poor farmers and the industrialists are losers."

"Industrialists get the land at higher prices and the farmers' land is purchased at cheaper rates. This huge profit goes into the pockets of these middlemen."

To curb this practice, Sood recommended that the proposed sites where new township or industrial town is to be developed, the land purchaser and the (new) owner should not be allowed to sell the land further for at least 10 years.

"The transfer of land on the basis of GPAs may be banned," said the report.

Representatives of the real estate sector said if the recommendations of the commission were accepted, there would be a drastic check on speculation and inflated property rates in the state.

First Published: Jul 30, 2013 14:59 IST