Wednesday, June 28, 2017

India Today Investigation: Punjab rural development officials involved in Rs 54 crore land scam.

India Today: Mohali: Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
A change of guard in Punjab has resulted in skeletons tumbling out of closets which were securely locked for a long, exposing the rot within.
After the arrest of Surinderpal Singh, a former chief engineer of Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA) last week in connection with unaccounted money worth Rs 200 crore, the Vigilance Bureau has now tightened its noose around a gang of corrupt Rural Development Department officers and a village headman who allegedly siphoned off  over Rs 54 crore meant for development.
Investigations done by India Today revealed that the state government had acquired land for the airport way back in 2008 to construct new building of the international airport. Besides the private land, it also acquired Panchayat land measuring 36 acres and community land (Shamlat Deh land) measuring 18 acres. Compensation of land as per the revenue record was fixed at Rs 1.5 crore per acre.
Accordingly, the authorities besides releasing the award money for the community land also paid Rs 54.17 crore for the panchayat land. Panchayat records reveal the department only released Rs 49.16 crore for the village development and the remaining Rs 5 crore was spent on a government building in Bathinda on the recommendation of a minister who had nothing to do with this village.
Panchayat records show the village headman Gurpal Singh spent Rs 13.77 crores on village road, 2 crematoriums and street lights. Some of the projects like sewerage and play ground however, remain on papers. Village resident Lakhwinder Singh Sidhu, whose 20 acre land was also acquired, told India Today that the total cost of construction work  is not beyond Rs 2.5 crore and the remaining public funds were siphoned off with the connivance of government officers.
"The amount spent on papers is inconsistent with the actual work done in the village. The village headman Gurpal Singh has gone underground after the scam came to light. He has purchased immovable properties besides a Toyota Fortuner vehicle with the money," says Lakhwinder Singh Sidhu.
Besides the development works, the village headman in connivance with the officers of  Department of Rural Development and Panchayat also misused public funds worth Rs 23.73 crore in buying 26 acres besides other chunks of land on behalf of village Panchayat in neighbouring Fatehgarh district without seeking any nod from the state government, members and locals. Prior approval to purchase any land from state government is mandatory under section 85 (1) of Punjab Panchayati Raj Act, 1994.
The landscam came to light when the locals accessed the land purchase documents through Right to Information (RTI) Act. Surprisingly the land was purchased at a whopping Rs 52 lakh per acre which is more than double the market rate and six times higher than the collectorate rates.
"There was no point to buy land from the public funds that too in other district. The funds were  misappropriated and no prior approval of the house or stakeholders was sought. The land deal was fictitious and the prices were inflated. All this was done to siphon off the funds. We demand that the guilty officials and the village headman is booked and the money is  recovered from them," says Sukhpreet Singh, another village resident.
The Mohali Airport land scan also rocked the Punjab Assembly. Mohali MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu raised the issue in the House and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered a high-level probe into the alleged bungling. Balbir Singh Sidh said the probe is being conducted by the Joint Director, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.
"This is the biggest land scam which shows how the politicians, government officials and village headman embezzled the public funds. The  value of the land purchased by violating  the laws is more than double. The chief minister had promised during the elections that all scams will be probed in a transparent manner. I was also approached by some people involved in the scam but we  will go ahead and expose the guilty," says Balbir Singh Sidhu.
The locals, however, believe that the probe by the officer of the same department may not be impartial and instead the government should conduct a vigilance probe.