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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Land compensation row: As Punjab govt fights its own minister in court, he says somebody in PWD out to get him

Apart from the High Court and the Supreme Court, the case has also seen CM set up an inter-departmental committee headed by the then Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh, which indicted the minister in June 2020 for taking compensation twice.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
May 8, 2021 10:08:04 pm
Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, PunjabPunjab Cabinet minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh/File)

The Punjab government is at war with its own Cabinet minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi in a land acquisition matter where the minister and his brother have been accused of receiving compensation twice for land acquired by the state government for a road project.

The matter has hit headlines once again after the Supreme Court issued a notice to Sodhi on May 3 based on a review petition filed by the state PWD department contesting the relief granted to Sodhi and others.

The state government has fought a long drawn legal battle with Sodhi, a close aide of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. Apart from the High Court and the Supreme Court, the case has also seen CM set up an inter-departmental committee headed by the then Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh, which indicted the minister in June 2020 for taking compensation twice.

After the panel’s report, the PWD filed a recovery suit against the minister, his brother and two nephews in December, 2020 in Guru Harsahai court.

In a parallel case in the same matter, SC, in 2019, upheld relief granted to the Sodhi family in October 31, 2017 by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. While the PWD filed a review petition against this, the SC order on May 3 stated that there was a delay of 544 days in filing the review petition.

The order also stated that the application seeking condonation of delay states inter alia that the land in question were subject matter of acquisition initiated in 1962, which attained finality, and compensation was paid to claimants.

The court order said: “Issue notice on the application for condonation of delay as well as on the review petitions, returnable on July 16, 2021, and let these review petitions be listed in open court.”

The political battle

Rana Sodhi, who was recently busy mediating between Amarinder and his former Cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu, said: “We will fight it in the court. Whatever the verdict is, we will accept it. The review petition is an attempt by someone high up in PWD to delay my compensation. Otherwise, what is the point in filing a review petition after 544 days. If they take the plea that it was due to Covid, then I want to ask them isn’t Covid there now. When they had lost in all the courts, I do not know why they keep on pursuing the matter. They had filed a miscellaneous application in the SC which was dismissed in December. But I believe in justice. They are trying to mislead media by not giving right information. I do not know their agenda.”

PWD minister Vijay Inder Singla said: “It is a court matter. I have nothing to do with it. PWD has nothing to do. It is between Rana Sodhi and the courts.”

The case file

The land in question belonged to Rana Sodhi, who is a Sports Minister and his brother, Hardeep Singh Sodhi, but has since been developed as government road.

As per the CS panel report, the duo had already accepted compensation worth Rs 10,000 in 1962 and later Rs 1.07 crore and Rs 75.75 lakh for 55 kanal, six marla and 38 kanal, 17 marla, respectively, in Mohan Ke Uttar village in Ferozepur during SAD-BJP regime way back in July 2014. This was done as the revenue record was not updated and the land was still in the name of the Sodhi brothers.

The panel report said: “There was connivance of certain officials as the land remained in Sodhis name in revenue records even after acquisition. As the compensation for the said land was already paid, as was found out from several documents available with the department by the sub-committee, the demand of enhanced compensation was wholly illegal and abuse of the process of law.”

On both the pieces of land, Guruharsahai to Wasal Mohal Ke Road has been there since 1962.

But as the land was in the name of the Sports Minister and his brother in revenue records, Rana Sodhi filed a suit for possession of land in 2006.

The suit was decreed by the Court of CJ (JD) Ferozepur directing the defendant department to make the payment of compensation after re-acquiring the suit land in accordance with Land Acquisition Act within a period of six months failing which the plaintiff is entitled to recover the possession of land.

Punjab government filed an appeal which was dismissed by District Judge, Ferozepur on July 5, 2007.

On April 22, 2008, it was decided that the process be initiated for acquiring the land under Land Acquisition Act.

On June 6, 2012, the draft award under Section 11 was submitted by DC Ferozepur and on August 9, 2012, the award was approved by government approving the recommendations of Price Fixation Committee. It was awarded at Rs 12 lakh per acre, along with solatium and other allowances. The payment worth Rs 1.07 crore and Rs 75.75 lakh was released on July 7, 2014.

After accepting the compensation twice, the duo went to the Ferozepur Court in November 2015 stating that they should be compensated under Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (repealed Act) on the plea that they were compensated in July 2014, after the Act was repealed, and they should be compensated under the new Act.

On November 26, 2015 of Additional District Judge, Ferozepur, remitted the matter back to the Ferozepur DC to redetermine compensation in accordance with provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Following this, the state government filed a petition challenging the order.

The High Court had on October 31, 2017 dismissed the appeal of the incumbent government citing 20 months of delay. The Supreme Court also upheld the HC order in 2019.

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