A court in Gurgaon this week ruled on a four-decade-long legal battle for a piece of land one-and-a-half times the size of Rashtrapati Bhavan on the southern border of Delhi, assailing as a “criminal act” and “a classic example of arbitrary exercise of power” the notices for eviction that were served on private owners of the land by the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon. What is the story of these 464.6 acres in the Gwal Pahari gram panchayat area, close to the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road?
How did the matter, decided by Gurgaon Civil Judge (Senior Division) Prashant Rana on April 16, reach the court?
After over 15 senior officials of the Haryana government took, over four decades, a range of decisions on the ownership of the land in question, the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court in July 2017, staking claim to the 464.6-acre plot in Gwal Pahari, worth several thousands of crores. Around the same time, a PIL was filed seeking a CBI probe into the transfer of the land to private parties. On August 10 last year, the High Court, where some 120 petitions had already been filed against the Gurgaon civic body and the state government, asked the Gurgaon District and Sessions Judge to assign all similar pending cases to a single court.
What were the issues before the Gurgaon court?
* Whether the plaintiffs (landowners and private players) were entitled to the relief they were seeking as bona fide purchasers or successors-in-interest of the original proprietors of Gwal Pahari village;
* Whether the suit land was part of shamlat deh (village commons), liable to be vested in the Gurgaon civic body;
* Whether the plaintiffs, being owners of the land, were entitled to an injunction against the Corporation’s eviction notice.
What did the court say?
In his 311-page ruling, the judge said,
* The plaintiffs were “declared to be owners in possession over their respective suit lands”;
* The eviction notices issued by the Municipal Corporation were “declared to be illegal, null and void ab initio, and set aside”, and directions were issued to “make appropriate changes in the MCG [Municipal Corporation, Gurgaon] records, revenue records, all other official records…”;
* MCG and the Haryana government were perpetually restrained from interfering in the peaceful ownership, possession, construction and use of the suit lands by the plaintiffs. MCG shall remove encroachments, if any, on the suit lands and hand over the peaceful vacant possession to the plaintiffs.
What are some of the mutations the court set aside?
The court junked three controversial mutations:
* Mutation No. 96 had been sanctioned on March 31, 1955 on the basis of a government letter, recording the Gram Panchayat as the owner of the land in revenue records. The court ruled that “a government letter could not form basis for making a change in the revenue record and… such a change of ownership… is not sustainable”.
* Mutation No. 3110 was sanctioned on July 2, 2012 in favour of the MCG. Two years later, in August 2014, Haryana Financial Commissioner (Revenue) Y S Malik received petitions from some prime private beneficiaries of the 464.6 acres, praying for cancellation of Mutation No. 3110. The following month, just three days before he relinquished charge, the officer passed an order in favour of the private parties. The MCG appealed to the Financial Commissioner (Gurugram), who stayed Malik’s orders almost immediately, but a year later, in October 2015, another senior IAS officer designated to look into the MCG’s review applications upheld Malik’s orders.
* Mutation No. 3249 was entered in December 2015, again in the name of MCG. On January 2, 2017, Gurgaon District Collector T L Satyaprakash held the mutation void ab initio, a decision first reported by The Indian Express. Satyaprakash’s order was, however, stayed by Gurgaon Deputy Commissioner D Suresh, following which the MCG started to send eviction notices to the landowners and private players.
What was the Gurgaon civic body’s defence in court?
The MCG told the court that the 464.6 acres had been earmarked as charand (grazing grounds) at the time of consolidation proceedings in 1964-65. It, however, failed to produce evidence of such earmarking, and the court rejected the Corporation’s assertion as an “illogical proposition”. In adjoining Punjab, the court said, the most that could be kept aside as charand was four acres, and “all the stakeholders of the society, including State and its departments, must realise that a 464.6 acres grazing ground is not required in the heart of NCR… With the increasing population, unemployment, tourism and medical tourism, what is required is the housing societies, markets, schools, hospitals, hotels and the existing and proposed Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and IT Parks and the resultant employment opportunities. Even the village community does not want the fictitious charand…”
What kind of businesses have been set up on the land?
M/s Metro Valley Business Park Pvt Ltd and M/s ASF Insignia SEZ Pvt Ltd have established SEZs after receiving permissions, licences, certificates and approvals from more than 30 departments of the state government, and the approval of the Chief Secretary, Chief Minister, and officers and ministers of the central government. The court praised their initiatives that it said had produced 30,000 jobs, and criticised the state government and the civic body for attempting to “reverse the entire development process”.