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Punjab govt loses Rs 40 crore prime land to builder mafia as bureaucracy looks the other way

Photo for representation

Chandigarh: The builder mafia has grabbed prime government land worth Rs 40 crore on the national highway in the Rajpura sub-division of Patiala district, as the bureaucracy, police and lower revenue officials looked the other way.

A whistleblower, Varun Malhotra’s 8-year-long tryst with the administration after he decided in 2014 to stop the fraudulent sale of about 23 kanals of the costly village ‘shamlat deh’ land shows, besides other things, the apathetic attitude of the bureaucracy in Punjab. Malhotra’s 200 sq yard plot on the Delhi-Amritsar national highway adjoins the ‘shamlat deh’ land.

The members of the land mafia – after fraudulently getting the village land transferred in their names – were selling it to unsuspecting buyers who did not know that this category of land can neither be sold nor can it be transferred in the name of private individuals.

Malhotra brought the matter to the notice of the then SDM Rajpura J.K. Jain, but he ignored it and advised him “not to poke his nose into governance.”

Motivated by his will to save public property, Malhotra filed several applications under the Right to Information Act (RTIs) in 2017 that revealed the then SDM Rajpura J.S. Bal in June 1994 ‘wrongly” approved the sale deed of the same land in the name of 5 individuals. It was done despite being pointed out that 2 out of 5 buyers had already died earlier. The SDM, however, wrote at the end of the registry document that if anybody had any objections to his decision, he could challenge it in the civil court.

The RTIs also revealed that in 1982 the category of inalienable ‘shamlat deh’ land was fraudulently changed to ‘hasab-rasad-raqba–khewat-shamlat.’ A revenue official explained that the latter category did not give the village panchayat any ownership rights of such land as it belonged to the individual proprietors. The proprietors could sell it to private buyers as per their share under the changed category after demarcation.

The whistleblower Malhotra narrates that on June 6, 2019, he met the then DC Patiala Kumar Amit seeking his intervention. The DC, instead of helping him, threw the file in his face and ordered him to get out of his office. Kumar Amit told him that he had nothing to do with the faulty registry which could only be rectified by a civil court.

Recounting his 8-year ordeal Malhotra says, “I met Rajiv Parasher, the then Financial Commissioner Revenue (FCR), KBS Sidhu, the then Additional Chief Secretary (ACS), the then Principal Secretary, Local Bodies Venu Parsad, the present DC Patiala Sakshi Sawhney, the present ADC Patiala Shaukat Ahmed, the present SDM Patiala Gurpreet Singh Thind and a host of other officers, but it did not help.”

Venu referred the matter to the Executive Officer (EO) of Municipal Council Rajpura, Sangeet Ahluwalia, for moving the civil court. The complainant, Malhotra was made a defendant in the case, but the advocate and EO did not inform him about the date of the hearing. The case was decided ex-parte. The case was revived on Malhotra’s request, and again he was not informed about the date of the hearing, indicating connivance of the EO and the government advocate.

On the intervention of Punjab’s Local Bodies Minister Inderbir Singh Nijjar, the EO has finally written to the SSP, DSP, and SHO concerned to register an FIR. But the DSP Surinder Mohan informed indianarrartrive.com that EO’s letter was vague. Based on such a vague letter, an FIR could be not registered, added the DSP.

Meanwhile, DC Patiala Sakshi Sawhney informed indianarrrative.com that after inquiring into the scam, she had submitted her report to the FCR KAP Sinha for further action against revenue officials who facilitated the sale of government land.