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PLPA in Mohali: Study says land ‘stable’, but construction bar to stay after row

Punjab CM Capt Amarinder in midst: Report by conservation institute says plain part of kandi belt in Mohali, where top politicians have land, safe for development.

punjab Updated: Feb 01, 2018 09:44 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
PLPA,Mohali,Capt Amarinder
Officials in the CM office, not willing to be named, said the government has decided to renew the notification covering 15 villages of Mohali district where the earlier notification would have lapsed next month, at the end of 15 years. (HT File )

Even as a report by the Indian Institute of Soil and Forest Conservation, Dehradun, has said that plains in the foothills of kandi belt in Mohali district are “stable”, the state government plans to continue with the bar on construction in the area.

The move to extend the ban notification under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) comes after allegations that chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and other politicians and bureaucrats with land in the belt would benefit if restrictions were to be removed.

Officials in the CM office, not willing to be named, said the government has decided to renew the notification covering 15 villages of Mohali district where the earlier notification would have lapsed next month, at the end of 15 years. There are over 30,000 acres in 502 villages in the kandi belt. In Mohali alone — where the CM bought around six acres recently — the construction ban over 3,725 acres will be extended.

Leader of opposition Sukhpal Khaira had accused Amarinder of violating the PLPA, but the CM’s office said that most of the land purchased by Amarinder had anyway been denotified in 2011. Only around three of his 24 bighas were still under PLPA, hence only trees would be grown there, while the other part would be used for a cottage, said the statement.

But, what if...

However, if the government were to accept the Dehradun institute report, thousands of acres would be open for housing and other development. This could spike rates by 10 times at least in the vicinity of Mohali and Chandigarh, said realty experts.

When contacted, additional chief secretary (forest and wildlife) Satish Chandra said the government would examine the report before deciding on further course of action.

Beneficiaries thus could include Shiromani Akali Dal president and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, who owns a resort on three acres in Pallanpur.

The land study had been commissioned by the SAD-BJP government near the end of its tenure over a year ago, and the institute was asked to study Mohali district first.

It started gathering samples when Congress took over after elections early last year, and it took five months to submit the report on Mohali on January 22.

Questions on hurry

Officers in the state forest and wildlife department — which takes the decisions on such matters — have said the report was prepared in a “hurried manner” giving “blanket clearance” to the plain area. However, in the report presentation, the experts said there is negligible erosion reported in the plains, meaning the land is safe for development. Dr Pankaj, who was one of the three members of the study team, said he could elaborate only by meeting.

“At the presentation, I raised objection over how even choes and ravines have not been declared fragile,” said Harsh Kumar, whose transfer from the post of chief conservator of forests (hills) has since raised eyebrows.

Kumar had landed in trouble after he wrote to potential developers to wait until February 3, the lapsing date of the earlier notification. “What wrong have I done? I asked them to check other notifications and laws too that impose a ban on development,” he said, adding that his transfer was “victimisation” and that he was being made a “scapegoat”.

When contacted, additional chief secretary (forest and wildlife) Satish Chandra said the government would examine the report before deciding on further course of action.

He rejected allegations of victimisation by Kumar, and referred to his writing to developers: “The officer prejudged government’s intentions, when the competent authority was still to take a final decision.”

Giving an excuse

Even if the report is not accepted now, officers in the forest department said the ruling class and colonisers, who have carried out construction illegally in the area, will now cite it to argue that they have built on “stable” land.

This could have paved the way for taking the land out of the preservation laws. As for Mohali alone, of 30 villages falling in the kandi belt in the district, 15 are covered by a separate notification for ban on construction, which expires in March next year, said divisional forest officer (DFO) Gurman Singh.

First Published: Feb 01, 2018 09:44 IST