IAS officer benefited land sharks, close to retirement

Settled 70 cases in favour of individuals in just 9 months

Vishav Bharti/Chandigarh, April 12/

A senior official in the Rural Development Department, responsible for protecting panchayat land from land sharks, used his powers to hand over hundreds of acres of prime land to certain individuals. Sukhjit Singh Bains, IAS, who retired in February, announced 70 decisions in just nine months to benefit certain persons.Now, all his decisions are under the scanner. Some have been stayed. Those believed to be undertaken with “malafide intentions” are being reviewed. SR Ladhar, former Principal Secretary, Rural Development, who was Bains’ immediate senior, said he had asked the department that all such decisions be reviewed.The Punjab Village Common Lands Regulations Act, 1961, gives the powers to hear cases related to panchayat land to department officers. Civil courts, through an Amendment in 1976, have been specifically barred from the same. Under the Act, individuals claiming ownership must prove they are cultivating or have possession as per their share in the Shamlat land since or before January, 26, 1950, which is hard to prove.Bains retired as Joint Development Commissioner on February 28 this year. Nine months prior to his retirement, he passed 70 orders, giving ownership of panchayat land, primarily located in areas where the prices are soaring, to private persons. Of the 70 decisions, at least 40 concern Mohali district. Sources say in some cases, Ladhar, then Financial Commissioner, had stayed Bains’ orders, observing that these had been passed with “malafide intentions” ahead of his retirement. Sources said some panchayats, including the Noorpur Kheeranwali panchayat in Kapurthala district and Baghe Ke Uttar in Fazilka, which has lost 30 acres, had met Ladhar last month.Amarjeet Kaur, an advocate with the Punjab and Haryana High Court, said she had taken up the case of 180 acres of Arno gram panchayat in Patiala district. She alleged the case was decided in favour of private persons, without her being heard.Ladhar, who not only stayed the operation of several orders issued by Bains but also suspended a reader attached with the latter, said he had asked Anandita Mitra, Joint Development Commissioner, Rural Development, to review the cases and, if need be, contest these in court in order to save the land of panchayats. Shamlat land is one of the main sources of revenue for the panchayats.Bains claimed his decisions stayed by Ladhar had been stayed. When contacted, Minister for Rural Development and Panchayats Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa said he was seized of the matter.

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