Vigilance inquiry points to Maluka in ~12cr land scam
Role of SAD exminister, 2 sinceretired IAS officers under lens for land purchase at ‘inflated’ price
CHANDIGARH: Role of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Sikander Singh Maluka and two retired officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Sukhjit Singh Bains and GK Singh, has come under the scanner of the Punjab vigilance bureau (VB) in an alleged scam of Rs 12 crore in purchase of alternative land for Jheurheri village panchayat of Mohali district, whose shamlat deh (common land) was acquired for the international airport.
When the Jheurheri panchayat bought land in Fatehgarh Sahib district with the compensation money in 2016, Maluka was minister for rural development and panchayats. Bains, who retired in February last year, was joint development commissioner in the department, while GK Singh, who retired in April last year, was the department director.
Money paid for this land was allegedly higher than the market rate, and the difference was actually embezzled, says the vigilance probe.
The trio’s role emerged after three months of investigation from other accused, including Gurvinder Singh Sarao, who remained Mohali district development and panchayat officer (DDPO), said a senior VB official not authorised to speak to the media.
Sarao was arrested along with block development and panchayat officer (BDPO) Malvinder Singh and panchayat officer Ravinder Singh.
Village sarpanch Gurpal Singh and Mohammed Sohel Khan, a lawyer for the department, were also arrested by the VB, which is investigating the case under sections of fraud and cheating under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act.
HOW IT HAPPENED
According to the VB, 36 acres of shamlat deh of the panchayat was acquired for the airport at a compensation of Rs 1.5 crore per acre. The state released Rs 54.17 crore, which as per norms should have been credited to the account of the sarpanch, but went to the account of the department director instead, by August 2015. With the money, the department officials and sarpanch decided to buy land for the village elsewhere.
More than 25 acres of farmland was bought in Karimpura and Kandipura villages of Fatehgarh Sahib, at Rs 13.62 crore in 2016. The rate paid was Rs 54 lakh per acre, even as the prevailing collector rate was Rs 9.77 lakh. It is alleged that Rs 12 crore was eventually siphoned off by the accused. VB investigators say the land was shown to have been purchased at a far higher than the market rate “at far-off places”, “without taking prior sanction from the competent authority as required”.
The landowners were paid the higher rates on record and later this money was taken back from the owners by the officials and mediators, and distributed among the accused, it is further alleged by the VB officials.
In this, VB officials now claim, “serious pointers” have emerged that raise questions over the role of Sarao and GK Singh as “both the officials have signed the permissions to purchase the land for the village”.
The bureau also has a statement of the arrested DDPO that Maluka was aware of the “wrongdoings” by officials and “conspicuously” remained silent all along.
What further points towards Maluka is two payments, including one of Rs 5 crore, made from the account of director, rural development, into that of Bathinda zila parishad, whose chairman was Maluka’s son, Gurpreet Singh, said a senior probe officer.
When contacted, vigilance chief director BK Uppal said the role of “higher- ups” of the department when the scam happened is being probed.
QUESTION OF NOD
Maluka, who was campaigning in Shahkot for the May 28 assembly bypoll, first told HT over the phone that when the scam came to the fore, “code of conduct was already in place in February 2017 (for the assembly polls)”.
Denying that he had a role, he further said, “Officials named in the scam blatantly violated laws to purchase land, and I was not kept in the loop. Any such purchase has to be have permission of the minister, which was not taken from me in this case.”
GK Singh said he is ready for “any sort of probe” as he has “not done anything wrong”.
“I was summoned by the VB in February as well. At that time I stated that purchase of the land was done by taking permission of the minister and the secretary,” he claimed.
Bains was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.
Sikander Singh Maluka