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‘They usurped government land… it is nothing but theft of public property’

The Himachal Pradesh High Court last week restored possession of Dharamsala stadium to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. The state had taken over the stadium on Oct 26 after cancelling lease of all land given to the HPCA. In this Idea Exchange,moderated by Editor (Chandigarh) Vipin Pubby,Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh defends his govt’s actions

The Himachal Pradesh High Court last week restored possession of Dharamsala stadium to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. The state had taken over the stadium on Oct 26 after cancelling lease of all land given to the HPCA. In this Idea Exchange,moderated by Editor (Chandigarh) Vipin Pubby,Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh defends his govt’s actions

Vipin Pubby: Your government’s action against the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) is being described as a vendetta against the previous BJP regime.

This is not correct. I am not interested in who controls the HPCA. I am not a cricketer. Earlier,as the Chief Minister I had passed a law stating that every sports body in Himachal Pradesh must hold elections properly,membership should be open,and the process should be transparent. Also,at least two officials from the Sports Department must be present in every committee that certifies such an election. But the moment Mr Dhumal came to power,he repealed this law. The HPCA was formed,headed by his son,Anurag Thakur. I don’t mind if he (Anurag) gets elected as per rules. But it was registered as a society with the Registrar of Cooperative Societies and it also availed several benefits. The land where this stadium was built at Dharamsala in Kangra district,properties worth crores of rupees were given on an annual lease of just one rupee. Land belonging to the Education,Agriculture and Horticulture departments was given to this stadium. Then they said that since Dharamsala didn’t have a good hotel,they would construct a hostel for players. This was approved by the previous Cabinet in a funny manner. It was a shamlat land (village common land). However,instead of building a hostel,they built a five-star hote. Even today,a part of the stadium’s land is in the name of the state government. They must have forgotten to do its mutation in the land records.

Raghvendra Rao: What was the revenue lost by the state government because of this?

The question of revenue loss does not arise as very valuable land,which was meant for education,horticulture and agriculture,was diverted. There is more to this HPCA thing. They went to Kanpur and formed an association by the name of HPCA. This HPCA stood for the Himalayan Players’ Cricket Association. They didn’t inform the government. The Himalayan Players’ Cricket Association was later converted into the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association and registered as a company under the Companies Act in Kanpur. The rules state that if you form a company in Himachal Pradesh,you have to get it registered in Chandigarh. That’s how they got government land transferred to a private company,of which they (Dhumal’s son and associates) had absolute ownership. This is illegal. They enjoyed all the benefits by first forming a society and then transforming it into a company. This is nothing but a clear case of cheating,and I hate to be cheated.

Ashwani Sharma: What corrective steps would you like the HPCA to take now?

A criminal case has been registered. They should revert to the old position and dissolve the company. They must hold elections according to rules and regulations,open membership to people. This is perhaps the only association in the country where life members have voting rights and most of them are from Jalandhar. They passed a resolution condemning the government’s action. It’s like ulta chor kotwal ko daante (pot calling the kettle black). It’s all because of Anurag Thakur. He is a young man,but very arrogant. His statements are very arrogant and derogatory; no civilised person uses such language.

Shalini Gupta: During the pendency of this case,will the government allow cricket matches to be played in the stadium?

No cricket activity shall take place in the stadium during the pendency of this case. The state government has every right to take this decision. We have stopped any kind of cricket in the stadium till the pendency of this case. We will not destroy the stadium. Let a cricket association be formed again as per the rules. Let there be regular elections,open memberships. We will not allow any cricket match at this stadium under the aegis of this body (HPCA).

Raghvendra Rao: You went to the stadium as a special invitee for a match. You were part of the presentation ceremony as well. Why did you attend it?

Had I known the truth about the HPCA then,I would not have gone there. This cheating by the HPCA was part of a design that the Dhumal government facilitated. Rather than having transparency,they made it a closed-door association, open to only certain people — their friends and cronies. They usurped government land without investing even a single penny for that. It is nothing but theft of public property.

Raghvendra Rao: Is there more wrongdoing pertaining to land during the BJP government that you have detected?

I am not going to excavate the dead. Certain things take time to be detected. I will not take a bulldozer and demolish everything. I will detect the wrongdoing within the frame of law and correct them. We have made a law to protect the interests of people of Himachal. We depend a lot on agricultural land. If I had surplus land available,like in Rajasthan,I would have invited people from outside the state. But it is not the case here. It is my responsibility to protect the interest of the people of my state,particularly farmers.

Shishir Tripathi: Violation of building bylaws was one of the major causes of devastation in Uttarakhand and Himachal during the recent flash floods. What is your government doing to prevent such violations?

In Himachal,this was not the case. But what happened in Uttarakhand was that there was a lot of construction on the river banks and they had allowed buildings to come up there. In Manali,same thing happened two years ago on the banks of Beas. So many hotels were constructed on the riverside. They all came down during the floods and landslide. We have completely stopped construction on river banks.

Jaskiran Kaur: Many hydel projects in Himachal Pradesh are seen as dangerous.

The hydel projects are not posing any threat. They are designed and constructed in a very scientific manner. Sometimes dumping of debris becomes a problem,but that is being taken care of. As far as Kinnaur is concerned,I personally believe that we have too many hydel projects in that area. Capacity of an area determines the number of hydel projects. In certain areas,hydel projects are necessary,but if you start allowing a hydel project on every rivulet,it will definitely lead to problems.

Khushboo Sandhu: Your government is accused of removing Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s pictures from government ambulances. Is this correct?

There is no truth in this. We are very good friends. As the prime minister,he (Vajpayee) was very generous towards me. I have not changed anything. It is all the BJP’s creation. The ambulance scheme was always a national scheme. The BJP changed it to Atal Swasthya Yojna in Himachal,like Akalis put Mr Badal’s pictures on the ambulances in Punjab. But one thing I would like to add here is that Punjab and Haryana have not been good neighbours to Himachal. We lost our land due to Bhakra dam’s construction. Thousands of people were ousted. Our land got washed away. As compensation,people were given land in Rohtak,Karnal and other such places that had no irrigation facilities at that time. They left their land and came back to Himachal. Same thing was repeated during the construction of the Beas-Sutlej-Link project. The affected Himachalis were given land in deserts of Rajasthan,some even on the Pakistan-Rajasthan border. And today when we ask for electricity generated from these power houses,they question our claims. I had to approach the Supreme Court for this. We will fight for our rights. When Himachal and Uttarakhand got industrial package,Punjab and Haryana made such a noise about it. They claimed that their industry was shifting to Himachal. I asked them to name one industry that had closed its operations in Punjab and shifted to Himachal. Their industries may have opened branches in Baddi or Barotiwala or somewhere else in Himachal. Due to pressure from Punjab and Haryana,the industrial package given to Himachal Pradesh was withdrawn three years before the expiry of its term.

Raghvendra Rao: What are the other areas where you think Himachal has suffered because of Punjab or Haryana?

I would not say that we have suffered because of them. If they are getting water in their fields today,it is because of us. If they are getting electricity,it is because of us and yet,they want to crush us under their boots. They are mistaken. I will not allow it to happen till the time I am the CM. What kind of neighbours are they? They treat Himachal as if it’s Pakistan. I have always considered Punjab and Haryana as part of my country,but it hurts when they behave in such a manner. I want them to prosper,but it appears that Himachal Pradesh’s prosperity causes them immense pain.

Yogesh Rajput: A number of drug-peddlers arrested in Chandigarh claim to have brought the contraband from Himachal,especially Malana.

Malana is one-fourth of Panchkula in size. How much drugs can it produce? Drugs are of many kinds. It is not just opium. To say that drugs are being smuggled from Himachal is not true. There may be little smuggling of charas,but that is also being taken care of. Such crops,spread across hundreds of acres of land,are regularly destroyed with the help of satellite imagery. Smuggling is not done by Himachalis. It is generally done by foreigners who visit the state. There is no drugs problem in Himachal Pradesh.

Vipin Pubby: There was a controversy pertaining to the ski-village project in Manali.

There is no controversy. The controversy was created by the BJP in the name of gods. We are open to the project and have given some offers to private players. Let’s see if anybody comes forward to launch the project.

Ashwani Sharma: The air connectivity to Himachal has always been a major problem. Even the Union government appears to have not helped the state on this. What are you doing to improve it?

The state government is taking several initiatives. For instance,the Shimla airport was constructed by the Himachal government and then handed over to the Airports Authority of India (AAI). Similarly,the Kangra airport was constructed by the Himachal government and handed over to the AAI. The Kullu airport terminus building was constructed by the AAI with the money provided by the state government. We want more airports in Himachal Pradesh. Even the existing ones need upgradation. For instance,the air strip at Shimla airport needs upgradation to accommodate bigger airplanes. I recently met the Union Minister for Civil Aviation and discussed the issue of air connectivity in the state. Shimla is perhaps the only state capital in the country without adequate air connectivity. Only a few air-carriers have the capability and aircraft to land in Shimla. The Union Minister has assured me that something will be done soon.

Raghvendra Rao: Don’t you think that the Shimla airport is an example of faulty planning,particularly the manner in which it was constructed?

I don’t agree. At the time when the airport was constructed,smaller aircraft were being used to transport passengers. The runway was designed accordingly. But now technology has improved and the size of aircrafts has increased. Thus,there is a need to increase the length of the existing airstrip to accommodate bigger aircrafts.

Ashwani Sharma: You had plans to expand the Bhuntar airport. What happened to that project?

The matter was discussed with the Union Civil Aviation Minister. River Beas flows in the area marked for expansion of the airstrip. We decided to consult a team of engineers. A panel of engineers from the Roorkee University studied the project,but it did not materialise. There were two options — either to construct a dam on the river or construct a bridge over it. The engineers’ team said that bridging was the only option. Several rounds of discussions have taken place. I am pursuing it.

Khushboo Sandhu: A large number of private universities have come up in Himachal Pradesh,but poor quality of education in these institutes has been an issue of concern. What do you have to say on this?

A large number of private universities were given permissions by my predecessor. I have always opposed private universities. I have said that the process should be very selective. Only those people should be allowed to set up a private university who have a certain level of experience. Setting up a university should not be considered a commercial venture. Also,any adventurer should not be allowed to set up a university. It is sad that private universities have mushroomed in the state.

Ashwani Sharma: Have you decided to review the policy of permitting private universities in the state?

I have done various things in this regard. During the previous government,if the university was set up for a few years,they were allowed to wind it up. But how can you wind up operations when you have already acquired so much of land for setting up a university? So,I extended the law with a clause that the university must run for 50 years. It was done with an objective to discourage sham players. We have set up a University Regulatory Authority to ensure certain minimum standards,and admissions are also being done as per prescribed norms.

Ashwani Sharma: During your election campaign,the issue of land sale in Himachal Pradesh and the ban on it came up for discussion. What is your opinion on the issue?

Section 118 prohibits sale of land in Himachal Pradesh to any non-agriculturist. Even people who are residents of Himachal but are non-agriculturists are barred from buying agricultural land for other purposes. The aim behind this restriction is that land available for horticulture and agriculture is very limited in the state. If we put it up for sale,there will be many people who can be compelled to sell their property with the offer of a huge amount of money. But people of Himachal do not know how to invest that kind of money. They would end up indulging in extravagant spending. In such a scenario,they will lose their land as well as money. The restrictions are not only meant for people who are non-residents of Himachal but also for those who are born and brought up in the state. But if they want to set up a house or buy a cottage,certain relaxations are permitted. In urban areas,there is no such restriction. People are buying properties in Kasauli,Mashobra,Kullu,Manali.

Vipin Pubby: Many religious sect heads have been given land in Himachal Pradesh,including Asaram and Ramdev. How did they get it? Recently Ramdev’s land was acquired by the state government.

I am not sure if land was given to Asaram,but Ramdev got a piece of land and the state government acquired it back. It was not done due to any vendetta,but because the land was wrongly given to him and in violation of the prescribed norms. That’s why the state government took possession of the said land. The matter is sub-judice. I do not want to discuss the case because the matter is in the court. Certain aspects need to be verified,like how the land was allotted to him,and whether or not any permission was taken.

Chitleen Sethi: The state government had initiated a ropeway project in collaboration with the Punjab government. It is learnt that the Himachal Pradesh government has terminated the collaboration.

Yes,we have terminated it. When we are capable of taking up the project on our own,why should we collaborate with anybody? The project starts and ends in Himachal’s territory. It was done considering the sentiments of people of Himachal. The ropeway is located near Anandpur Sahib.

Mukesh Bhardwaj: Not many housing projects are being promoted by the state government. Even those promoted,are yet to see the light of day. At least 25,000 people have invested money in such projects,but have not got anything in return.

One particular project which you may be referring to is being looked after by the HIMUDA (Himachal Pradesh Urban Development Authority). They are going ahead with the project. We have a young and dynamic minister looking after the HIMUDA. He has told me that the projects which are feasible will definitely be started and,in case of those not feasible,money will be returned to investors.

Transcribed by Varinder Bhatia

One particular project which you may be referring to is being looked after by the HIMUDA (Himachal Pradesh Urban Development Authority). They are going ahead with the project. We have a young and dynamic minister looking after the HIMUDA. He has told me that the projects which are feasible will definitely be started and,in case of those not feasible,money will be returned to investors.

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