Hoshiarpur land scam: ED’s swift move raises questions over VB probe pace
The Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) move to freeze properties of five persons, including three local Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders, booked in the Hoshiarpur land scam exposed by the Hindustan Times in June 2016, has led to questions over the Punjab vigilance bureau’s failure to even file a chargesheet after 15 months of investigation.
The whistleblower in the case, activist Rajiv Vashisht, said, “I demand from the chief minister to order a probe against the VB officials. The accused were deliberately given time to get bail. When the ED can start the process to attach properties to the case, the VB’s failure to file a challan is surely to protect the accused.” No VB official probing the case was available for comment despite repeated attempts.
As per the FIR of February last year, the Akali leaders and other land dealers, in alleged connivance with the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), purchased land notified for a national highway project in the names of their family from farmers at relatively low prices during, and then sold it to the government on higher rates. Also, chunks of farmland purchased by these dealers and politicians were shown as residential colonies to get even higher compensation.
ED’s move to freeze the properties — this means stopping their sale — is the first step towards attaching them with the case (to possibly recover the scam money), said senior officials of the central agency from its Punjab headquarters in Jalandhar. In its letter late last month to the sub-registrar of Hoshiarpur that led to the freezing, ED asked to provide collector rate of the individual properties of the accused, as on February 1, 2017, the day the case was registered by the VB. The then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had ordered this probe. Congress came to power around a month after that.
The ED registered its case on June 5, 2017, against the then SDM Anand Sagar Sharma and 10 others, including three SAD leaders, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, after the VB had named the 11 persons in its FIR. Those whose properties have been frozen include SAD’s Hoshiapur councillor Harpinder Singh Gill, district cooperative bank chairman Satwinderpal Singh Dhatt, market committee chairman Avtar Singh Johal and local businessmen Parteek Gupta and Jaswinderpal Singh.
This is not the first time the VB’s role has come under the scanner. The agency took more than six months to register its FIR even as Badal had ordered to complete the probe in 45 days. Even after the registration of the FIR, no arrest was made. The case was initially investigated by inspector general of police (IGP) Shiv Verma, and is now being investigated by an inspector-rank official of the economic offences wing of the VB.