In a significant development, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday asked the Punjab government to explain whether it was willing to appoint a senior government officer to take necessary action on the two reports submitted by the Judicial Tribunal probing the alleged illegal properties owned by high-ups in Chandigarh’s periphery.
The Punjab government was also directed to examine whether it was ready to treat the two reports as “prima facie evidence” of “encroachment of panchayat land”. For this purpose, the state government was given two weeks’ time to explain if it was ready to confer power of the Collector on a senior functionary to exercise jurisdiction under the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961.
The category of cases the collector will be competent to examine and the category of cases to be decided by other forums shall be explained by the state. Punjab will also “suggest” the forum for giving effect to the report of the tribunal.
The issue of granting extension to the tribunal, whose extended term had expired on July 13 last, to complete the “remaining unfinished work” will be decided on the next date of hearing, February 10.
The directions were passed by a division bench comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and Fateh Deep Singh when the petition, arising out of a suo motu notice taken by the High Court, concerning alleged illegal properties owned by high-ups in Chandigarh’s periphery came up for resumed hearing on Monday.
Appearing on behalf of the state, Additional Advocate General Reeta Kohli sought time to seek instructions.
The court ordered that the law officer “wishes to examine as to whether the state is ready to confer power of the Collector on a senior functionary of the state government to exercise jurisdiction under Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961 treating the report of the Tribunal as prima facie evidence of encroachment of Panchayat land”.
Punjab had come under the scanner for challenging the constitution of a judicial tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Kuldip Singh. Punjab had decided to probe but by constituting a committee of state- level officers. The state had taken the stand that it was doing so as the Supreme Court had not stayed the constitution of the tribunal to date.
The justification offered, however, had earned Punjab wrath of the High Court. Taking a dig at the “concern” shown by the state, the High Court had asked why the state had not withdrawn its appeal from the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order which on May 29, 2012 had set up the tribunal. To this pointed query, the state counsel had submitted that Punjab did not intend to withdraw its appeal from the Supreme Court and was rather awaiting the outcome of its appeal.