Prime panchayat land in Patiala leased for a pittance?
Officials conceal facts, lease out lands in Patiala villages for pittance to favour individuals, leading to losses to panchayats; DDPO in dock; DC orders probepunjab Updated: Apr 25, 2016 15:35 IST
The Punjab rural development department has once again landed in controversy, this time over leasing of prime panchayat lands in this district for a pittance by concealing facts to favour individuals.
Department officials have leased the 30-kanal village common land at Mansurpur Chintanwala village in Nabha block, 25 km from here, for “building a school on it” by concealing the fact that a private school has already been running on this land for the past 30 years.
The staff and nearly 1,000 students of the school are blissfully unaware that their institute no more exists in the rural development records. And the land has been leased for a mere Rs 1.15 lakh per year, way below what it would have fetched the panchayat had the fact not been concealed as the school has a decent annual income.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of a scam of leasing out prime village properties on a long-term lease of 33 years, a policy formulated by the state government in 2014. According to this, instead of leasing out land for a year, and re-auctioning it annually, the government leases out land for commercial ventures for 33 years in one go.
Already rocked by violations of MNREGA rules in 2014—which had led to registration of cases against its erring officials—the department is in soup, this time over leasing of prime village common lands in Patiala district for a pittance, leading to losses to panchayats.
This time, district development and panchayat officer (DDPO) Vinod Kumar Gagat, who on Wednesday was transferred to Rupnagar district, is in the dock. The DDPO allegedly used his influence with panchayats to tweak specifications that suited the beneficiaries, concealed important facts and facilitated leasing of prime lands.
While leasing out land at Mansurpur Chintanwala village, the DDPO and other officials concealed the fact that a school was already built on the land. The DDPO purposed the file to the deputy commissioner that reads, ‘For fixing of base price for leasing land for 33 years for “building a school”’.
Gurjeet Singh, the whistleblower, a resident of Nabha town, said, “I had offered Rs 5.5 lakh per year for the land and school, which would have enhanced the panchayat’s income, but the DDPO didn’t agree. Had the land been auctioned with the details that there was already a school built on it, the auction amount would have been much higher. But the DDPO concealed the fact that there was a school on it, the very same institute from where I had passed my middle in the early 1970s.” After the DDPO allegedly manipulating the facts came to light, deputy commissioner Ramvir Singh has ordered a probe. However, the deputy commissioner refused to give details.
Land to brick kilns at throwaway prices
The district administration has also found that in some villages common lands were leased out for brick kilns at throwaway prices.
“There has been a big scam in leasing out these lands. Almost 40 such long-term lease auctions are under the scanner,” said a source.
The deputy commissioner is already probing a proposal to lease out three-acre prime land worth Rs 10 crore for a mere Rs 1 lakh per year at Theri village, adjoining Urban Estate in Patiala.
Villagers had asked the DDPO and panchayat not to lease the land to a private school for using it as a playground for a pittance but hold an open auction to generate more income. But the proposal was allegedly tailor-made to benefit the school.
DDPO denies charges
When contacted, DDPO Vinod Kumar Gagat denied charges of any misuse of power and concealing facts. “I have done nothing wrong. Everything is transparent. It’s the village panchayat that passes a resolution for leasing out land, so the DDPO office has no role in planning the auction of any land except taking permission from the deputy commissioner and overseeing the auction,” he said. He denied that anyone had raised the issue of the school already built on the land for which the auction was held. “The rural department secretary can cancel the auction, if it is found faulty,” he concluded.