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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Prime common land leased to Punjab minister’s trust at throwaway price

Balbir Sidhu denies any wrongdoing, says a gaushala will be set up there; villagers wanted park

Written by Jagdeep Singh Deep | Mohali |
August 5, 2021 10:42:48 am
Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu. (Express)

A 10.4-acre shamlat land, estimated to be valued at around Rs 100 crore, has stirred up controversy in Balongi village near Mohali, with locals running a campaign and claiming that it was given on lease at throwaway prices to a trust that is headed by Punjab Health Minister, Balbir Singh Sidhu.

A total of 10.4-acre land was allotted to Bal Gopal Gau Basera Welfare Society – the trust which has its registered address as House Number 2222, Phase VII, Mohali, the personal residence of Sidhu. Mohali MLA Sidhu is the president of the trust, which has six executive members, other than a secretary and a cashier.

The lease was executed for 33 years a few weeks ago. Confirming the development, Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa told The Indian Express that the land was leased out to the trust for running a gaushala, “The rules permit us to lease the land for 33 years. All rules have been followed. What is the problem if the gaushala happens to be run by a trust that is headed by the Health Minister?”

Eyebrows are, however, being raised, with many stating said that the land in question was common village land and former panchayat members had been demanding that a public park be set up on it.

The sarpanch of Balongi, Bahadur Singh, who is a Congress sympathiser, insisted before The Indian Express that the land was allotted by following all the due procedures. He claimed that some people had grabbed the shamlat land (village common land) and the panchayat was getting no income from the said land hence.

“We have given the land on 33-year lease to the trust and the panchayat shall charge Rs 25,000 per acre annually. We first passed the resolution in the panchayat and then allotted the land,” Singh said.

Prodded about some portion of the land having been given on rent at higher prices earlier, Bahadur Singh said that the panchayat had given around 2 kanals of land on rent to some shopkeepers for Rs 900 per marla, but most of the land had been lying useless.

Bahadur Singh also said that as per the lease deed, the trust could build a cowshed (Gaushala), a Banquet Hall, a Temple, and a Diagnostic Center on the land for social causes.

Daljeet Singh Punia, the President of ‘Pind Bachayu and Shamlat Zameen Bachayu Committee’ of Balongi village, however, alleged that due process had not been followed for allocation of the land.

“A piece of land worth crores has been handed to a minister’s trust for 33 years. They are land sharks. We have been fighting for saving the land of our village as it is commercial land and the village panchayat could make it a source of income. The land which is allotted to the trust is worth around Rs 100 crore. Moreover, we have been requesting the administration to build a cowshed at some other place as it is near the village,” he pointed.

Punia added that if one marla of land was earning a rent of Rs 900, then 10 acres could have earned earn huge for the panchayat. He said, “One acre of land has 160 marlas. This could have been a good source of income.”

Health Minister Sidhu, when contacted, said that the land was leased out to the trust following all proper procedures, “If Balbir Singh Sidhu’s son has constructed a house on the land, then the villagers had the right to complain. The trust has been set for for a social cause. We have set up a gaushala and will also be setting up a
diagnostic centre for the poor.”

Parvinder Singh Kitna, a social activist, said he has written a letter to Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, and Director of Punjab Vigilance Bureau (VB) to investigate the issue.

Kitna told The Indian Express that they shall approach the Punjab and Haryana High Court in case the state government fails to conduct a probe in the issue.

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