The Punjab and Haryana High Court has granted a final opportunity to the Punjab government to decide on the proposed amendment in the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961 and said the court would go ahead with the transfer of pending cases of Gram Panchayat land grabbing in Mohali and Rupnagar districts to the empanelled officers on March 20 if the government decides not to amend the Act.
A division bench of Justices Surya Kant and Shekher Dhawan in the order passed on Tuesday has also given the government four weeks to submit a list of the panel of the officials, who will perform the duties of Collector as well as the Commissioner-and-appellate Authority Act for the disposal of the pending cases. The government has also been asked to submit the list of lawyers who will fight the cases on behalf of the Gram Panchayats.
The officers, whose name have not been submitted by the government despite repeated court orders, are expected to decide the pending cases and give effect to the recommendations of the Special Tribunal headed by former Supreme Court judge Kuldip Singh. The Tribunal had found that thousands of acres of shamlat or public land had been grabbed by various private individuals in Punjab.
Last year, the government had told the High Court that it was considering an amendment to the Village Common Lands Act. There is also a stay on the passing of the final order of the pending disputes before various authorities, who are exercising the quasi-judicial powers under the act, as the High Court had observed that the Gram Panchayats and the residents of the villages will suffer irreparable loss if their cases are adjudicated in absence of any proper and effective assistance.
High Court in February, 2017 had said that, “In case the state government has any serious difficulty in identifying the officers to act as Special Collector or Appellate Authority, there is an equally effective alternate to amend the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961 and entrust such disputes to the Civil Courts for adjudication.”
During the hearing of the case on Tuesday, Senior Advocate M L Sarin – who is the Amicus Curiae in the matter, told the division bench that the pendency of the decision regarding the amendment is sending wrong signal to the public and “so many transactions are taking place and people are not even aware about the pending cases (surrounding the land).”
The opposition Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab, also, last month, had sought implementation of the Justice (retd.) Kuldip Singh’s recommendations on the land encroachment and called for action against the people who are accused of grabbing the public land in the areas.