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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Patiala trust got Rs 40-cr prime land in exchange of Rs 8-cr farm land

punjab Updated: Apr 29, 2017 10:04 IST
Vishal Rambani
Vishal Rambani
Hindustan Times
Work underway on the prime panchayat land at Faggan Majra village in Patiala on Friday.
Work underway on the prime panchayat land at Faggan Majra village in Patiala on Friday.(Bharat Bhushan/HT Photo )

Prime panchayati land worth ₹40 crore and connected to the Patiala-Sirhind road was swapped with agricultural land worth about Rs 8 crore, benefitting a private Trust to the tune of crores at Faggan Majra village in Patiala.

Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers SR Ladhar, the then financial commissioner, rural development, and GK Singh, the then director, rural development, cleared the file while the model code of conduct was in force ahead of the Punjab polls. GK Singh is also a member of the Sarbat Da Bhala (SDB) Trust, which got the prime land for carrying out “charitable” works. The Trust is headed by SP Singh Oberai, a non-resident Indian (NRI) from Dubai.

BDPO refused, got transferred

“Such was the pressure to secure the land transfer that when a block development and panchayat officer (BDPO) refused to forward the file carrying the panchayat resolution to senior officials for swapping the land, he was transferred. The BDPO was objecting to it as the move would have caused a loss of several crores to the panchayat department. The next incumbent, Baljit Singh Sohi, forwarded the file within three hours after joining as the Patiala BDPO on November 25, 2016. On December 5, the previous BDPO was again brought back on the post,” said an official privy to the deal.

Records accessed by HT show that the district development and panchayat officer (DDPO) sent the final proposal on January 6, and Ladhar cleared it on March 3. Both these dates fall within the time frame when the model code was in force in Punjab. The code came into immediate effect after the announcement of the elections on January 4 and ended on March 15, when the results were notified.

Also, before the process was completed, the officials took the then rural development minister Sikandar Singh Maluka’s nod.

A conflict of interest

“It is a clear case of conflict of interest. IAS officer GK Singh, who joined the Trust while serving as the Patiala deputy commissioner, even went on foreign jaunts as its member. He, as the director, rural development, favoured the Trust. The land deal is against the spirit of Panchayati Raj Act,” said a department official, on the condition of anonymity, while admitting that the deal caused a huge loss to the panchayat.

Explaining the valuation of the land, sources said: “While PUDA Omaxe colony is selling plots at Rs 12,000 per sq yard, the prime panchayat land that is situated just two kilometers from there is valued at around Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 per sq yard. Even if we undervalue it, the land has a commercial value of Rs 40 crore. And the agricultural land with which it has been swapped is valued around Rs 8 crore.”

An earlier bid to transfer this prime land to the Trust was initiated in 2014, but was stalled by Patiala Rural MLA Brahm Mohindra, who is now a cabinet minister.

‘No rule violated’

GK Singh admitted that he was a Trustee and was also in loop while the authorities took the decision to make the land swap. “No rule was violated. The file was seen by minister. I am only connected with the Trust for social service. There is no conflict of interest,” he said. Singh said the file was cleared by his senior officials. Despite several attempts, Ladhar could not be contacted.

Patiala deputy commissioner Kumar Amit said he has directed the DDPO to stop the Trust from taking possession of the land in question. “I have sought all documents and the case will be reviewed on merit,” he said, adding the Trust has been directed to stop any activity on the land.

Charity began at home?

Sources said the Sarbat Da Bhala Trust had made a written request to the Faggan Majra panchyat on November 2, 2016, for swapping the 12-acre land situated on the roadside with two plots of agricultural land, measuring 14 acres but situated way back. The Trust said it would use the land for opening a home for mentally challenged children, conducting eye operations for free, providing cost effective dialysis and running free beautician and embroidery classes as part of its charitable initiatives. On November 11, the panchayat passed a resolution, with a rider that 25% jobs will be provided to village residents, and sent the proposal to the BDPO.

“What is the point of having a home for disabled children when Patiala already has two such homes, of which one has received national awards. Also, embroidery and other classes are being run by various NGOs. There is no logic in swapping prime land for this. And why can’t the Trust carry on such activities on its own land. Why did it want the roadside land. It’s a clear act of looting the state,” said a department official on the condition of anonymity. 

First Published: Apr 29, 2017 10:02 IST