Punjab: HC judge recuses from land fraud case against officials, Punjab minister

Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, against whom the PIL has been filed, is considered a close aide of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

A High Court judge on Thursday recused himself from hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking directions regarding alleged fraud committed by Punjab government officials in connivance with state Cabinet Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi.

The PIL — filed in connection with the officials allegedly seeking compensation twice for a piece of land acquired by the government — came up for hearing before the division bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli. The bench said, “List this petition of which one of us (Arun Palli, J.) is not a member on July 23.”

The petitioner, Dinesh Chadha, through counsel, advocate Sameer Sachdeva, has sought directions against the “illegal, fraudulent and treacherous acts committed by the state Government officials in connivance with state Cabinet Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, Gurmeet Singh, whereby the land of minister and his family which stood acquired and compensation paid in 1962, was again mischievously acquired in 2012 by the state government for same very purpose by sheer manipulations and widespread bungling, leading to double payment of compensation for the same very land twice to the minister and his family by defrauding the state exchequer and public at large”. The petitioner submitted that “the entire wrong committed against the state and public at large needs to be undone by the High Court by declaring the second acquisition proceedings and all related proceedings as illegal, null and void-abinitio”.

The PIL could mean more trouble for the state government, which is already facing crisis due to infighting in the ruling party. The Cabinet minister, against whom the PIL has been filed, is considered a close aide of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

The petitioner, Dinesh Chadha from Punjab’s Ropar area, claimed that the case involved a matter of “grave public concern, whereby a present Cabinet minister in Punjab government managed and manipulated the government machinery in taking compensation again and again for the same land, in the garb of dual acquisition proceedings by concealing the facutm of earlier acquisition proceedings. Now when the entire scam and fraud is unearthed as per the state government’s own high power committee report, the state government officials are sitting as puppets and helpless creatures in the hand of mighty and powerful, least they will themselves be facing the wrath in case they dare to take any criminal action against the minister concerned and his family members”.

The case

The State of Punjab acquired 12 acres belonging to the minister and his family in 1962 for the construction of Ferozpur-Fazilika road. The family accepted the compensation but in 2000 by “taking advantage of old revenue entries, the minister with an intention to defraud the government of Punjab and also mislead the court, filed the suit to take possession of the land that the state acquired in 1962. In 2007, for the lack of averment on the part of the government officials, the suit was decreed in favour of the minister”, claimed the petitioner, while adding that there was no serious effort to challenge it in higher courts.

In 2008, the minister filed a writ petition praying that he was not given compensation for the acquisition. On High Court direction, the then superintendent engineer, “without examining the record properly took a decision to re-acquire the land, following which the State awarded compensation amounting to Rs 1.83 crore”.

In 2015, the minister concerned, as per the petitioner, did not stop here as he filed the petition for re-determination of the acquisition compensation. The application was disposed of vide order November 26, 2015, thereby allowing the application for re-determination of the amount of compensation as per the new act, 2013.

The petitioner has claimed that the Punjab government in 2020 formed a committee under the chairmanship of the chief secretary to verify the facts with regard to the “bogus exercise” being conducted, “leading to the same piece of land belonging to the minister being acquired twice”. Now the minister was seeking release of further compensation through contempt proceedings.

In LPA 126 of 2021 dated February 9, 2021, the division bench stayed the contempt orders filed by the minister for not following the re-determination of the land compensation passed by additional session judge in 2015, appreciating the plea of the State acknowledging the fraud in this case. Even though the high-powered committee of the state government submitted a report in this regard, no action has been taken so far, claimed the petitioner.

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