Land mafia ruining Punjab

Land grabbers continue to be on the prowl in Punjab and Haryana. Last week’s two developments illustrate this. One was the indictment of VIPs by a Punjab and Haryana High Court panel for fraudulently grabbing village common lands, particularly on the periphery of Chandigarh. The other was the Akali-BJP government’s decision to develop Mullanpur, a township close to Chandigarh and name it as New Chandigarh. This has led to allegations that land mafia and influential politicians were behind the renaming decision.

It is no longer a secret that land, over the years, has become a major money-minting source for Punjab and Haryana’s many influential politicians, irrespective of their political labels. Using their official positions and by manipulating laws, they have accumulated huge immovable properties, mainly land. Some of them, particularly Haryana’s Chautalas, are facing prosecution for amassing large disproportionate assets.

Although land grabbing by VIPs and others has taken place all over Punjab, the High Court panel headed by Justice Kuldip Singh has mainly referred to those concerning Chandigarh’s periphery. The revelations made in the panel’s second report make damning comments on the activities of influential people charging them with fraudulently grabbing of land in connivance with the revenue staff.

According to the report among the VIPs who have illegally and erroneously taken possession of huge chunks of land on Chandigarh’s periphery is the state’s former Director-General of Police Paramdip Singh Gill. He was picked up by the Akali Dal-led government for the DGP’s post and had also unsuccessfully contested the Assembly elections from Moga on the Akali Dal ticket.

In some of their earlier reports submitted by high-level investigators, many political leaders including those belonging to the ruling and the Opposition parties had also been charged with fraudulently occupying large chunks of land in different parts of Punjab. In his second report, the Justice Kuldip Singh panel said “it had made several recommendations in its previous report. Apart from paper work, nothing practical has been done” and no action has been taken on the recommendations.   

The panel has not referred to New Chandigarh issue as the decision on the renaming was taken by the Punjab government only a few days ago. It has, however, kicked up controversies on the motives behind the decision and also involving Punjab and Haryana’s claims over ownership of the joint capital.   

Punjab Congress Committee’s spokesman and former party MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira has charged deputy chief minister’s involvement in the renaming ‘racket’. He alleged that Sukhbir Singh conceived the New Chandigarh project to give a realty boost to around 18 acres land owned by the Badals in village Palampur, about five km from Mullanpur but not included in New Chandigarh. He also alleged ‘Sukhbir proposed to construct a seven star resort.

The urbanisation is being done in order to make the resort viable. A six-lane highway is also being constructed up to Siswan, which will make connectivity to the resort faster.’ Khaira also agreed that politicians from all major parties in the state, including the Congress, owned land in Mullanpur and had benefited from New Chandigarh project.

However, Sukhbir rubbished the allegations saying ‘I own land in Palampur. This was bought almost three decades ago. This land is not even part of New Chandigarh. It is silly to suggest that because my family owns land in the area, we are going about developing New Chandigarh. With the growth of population, urbanisation is the need of the hour. Rather than reaping any individual benefits, we are coming up with regulated development of the state.’

Not unexpectedly Haryana has reacted sharply against Punjab’s decision on New Chandigarh. According to chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda ‘the chemistry of Chandigarh cannot be changed. If I name Gurgaon as the new or modern Delhi, what does that mean? It is not an ethical thing.’
Land grabbing controversies are likely to be among the issues that will figure in the 2014 elections campaigns of political parties in Punjab and Haryana.

In the backdrop the above cases, it will be interesting to watch the damage control measures the Akali-BJP-ruled Punjab and the Congress-ruled Haryana take to meet their opponents’ onslaughts on the land grabbing issue.
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