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Monday, November 29, 2021

Haryana in legal tangle over 19-year-old nod to sell plot on ASI-protected mound

It was on February 4 this year that the then principal secretary (Archaeology and Museums) Ashok Khemka had written to the chief secretary and flagged the issue of IAS officer Deepti Umashankar permitting sale of residential plots on ASI's protected mound sites in Hisar district of Haryana.

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Chandigarh |
November 18, 2021 9:40:01 am
Archaeology Minister Anoop Dhanak approved Khemka's assertions and the file went to the CM’s office, which however stalled any further action in the matter and sought a report from Hisar's deputy commissioner.

A DEPUTY Commissioner’s permission to sell a plot on a site protected by the Archaeological Survey of India way back in 2002 is now haunting the Haryana government, which is caught in a legal tangle in the High Court.

A Hisar resident, Umed Singh, who had dragged the state government to court seeking compensation for its attempt to remove him from the residential plot that was “sold” to him by the gram panchayat, has put the government in a complex situation. While the case is pending under litigation in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the officer who accorded the permission for sale of the land has moved on and is currently posted in New Delhi.

It was on February 4 this year that the then principal secretary (Archaeology and Museums) Ashok Khemka had written to the chief secretary and flagged the issue of IAS officer Deepti Umashankar permitting sale of residential plots on ASI’s protected mound sites in Hisar district of Haryana.

Highlighting Umashankar’s role as Hisar DC in 2002, Khemka wrote: “Permission to sell land beyond 200 square yards was outside her inherent jurisdiction.” A reference was made to the development and panchayats department to take needful action as per law against the encroachers.

While Umashankar did not respond to the queries, a senior Haryana government officer privy to the case, said, “Deepti Umashankar is an extremely upright and honest officer. She was DC, Hisar. The INLD government at that time had brought out a policy that was duly approved by the Cabinet. The policy said that whosoever has raised a construction on panchayat or shamlat land, it should be regularised if they pay ‘X’ amount. In Rakhi-vaas, there were two houses, which had been constructed many years ago. Such constructions were regularised across the state. Deputy commissioners were authorised to regularise such constructions on payment of ‘X’ charges. A committee comprising SDM, BDO and district town planner etc. did the ground work and put up the case to the deputy commissioner. Whatever the policy was, she regularised it according to that. The matter was examined thoroughly by the government and filed. The officer was not wrong. The matter is as such going on in the High Court.”

It was in 2019 when one of the beneficiaries of such plots, Umed Singh, filed a case in High Court. Umed Singh and one more person are occupants of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected mounds of national importance. Umed Singh is one of the eight beneficiaries of the permission accorded by then DC Deepti Umashankar.

The petitioner (Umed Singh) is at serial no. 2 of the order of DC, Hisar, dated December 24, 2002, whereby gram panchayat was given permission to sell plots to these people. The petitioner and another person, Satbir, at serial no. 3, are occupants of 428 square yards and 746 square yards plots, respectively on ASI protected mounds no. 2 and 3.

Khemka pointed out that as per the rules, “The maximum panchayat area permitted to be sold with the permission of the deputy commissioner was 200 square yards.”

Umashankar, on December 24, 2002, had accorded permission to sell eight plots of different sizes exceeding 200 square yards each owned by Gram Panchayat, Rakhi Shahpur, Block Narnaund, to eight people including Bhale Ram, Umed Singh, Satbir, Lajpat Rai, Sita Ram, Ram Kumar, Mehtab and Dev Datt. Out of these, Umed Singh and Satbir are occupying plots on ASI-protected mounds of national importance.

Umed Singh, in his petition, had mentioned himself as the “owner” of the said land. He cited grounds that his construction existed on the site since long before and was prior to the date of issuance of notification dated September 16, 1996 (the date when mound no. 1 situated in village Rakhi Khas was declared by the central government in the official gazette to be of national importance under Section 4(3) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958).

Umed Singh, in his petition, further claimed that the site in question (423 sq. yards) was sold to him by the gram panchayat vide a sale deed dated August 13, 2003, for a total consideration of Rs 63,450. He added that he remained in possession of the site as unauthorised occupant of gram panchayat land on the date of the central notification and continued as such till the execution of the sale deed on August 13, 2003.

On August 31, 2020, while referring to Umed Singh’s case, Khemka had said that Singh was an “unauthorised occupant of gram panchayat land”. Legal opinion was sought from the advocate general so that the department could submit its reply in High Court. The advocate general’s office, on November 3, 2020, gave opinion on four queries raised by the Archaeology and Museums department and held that the “Gram panchayat could have not sold/transferred the land without approval of the central government in view of the section 6 and 7 of the Act of 1958”. The AG office added that “the sale does not seem to be legally valid”.

On November 6, 2020, Khemka flagged the issue to the CM and suggested that the cost of rehabilitation of the encroachers of central protected sites/monuments was being “wrongly incurred by the state government”. He added that rather, the “entire cost of rehabilitation of encroachers be borne by the central government”.

Archaeology Minister Anoop Dhanak approved Khemka’s assertions and the file went to the CM’s office, which however stalled any further action in the matter and sought a report from Hisar’s deputy commissioner.

On November 27, Khemka reiterated that the permission accorded by Deepti Umashankar in the first place, was “totally illegal” and even recommended disciplinary proceedings against her.

Khattar considered the matter and issued directions on two counts on how the department should handle the matter in the High Court. In a separate note, the chief minister also directed Chief Secretary Vijai Vardhan to seek comments of Deepti Umashankar on the “facts and circumstances that led to her orders ated December 24, 2002, whereby which she had given permission of sale of plots on protected mounds”.

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