In a setback for Supreme Court lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, the Himachal Pradesh government on Wednesday obtained control of 4.66 hectares of land belonging to the Kumud Bhushan Education Society (KBES), which is promoted by the Bhushan family, in a tea garden in Palampur.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Kangra Deputy Commissioner C Paulrasu, who issued the order, said, “The proceedings against the society were initiated by one of my predecessors in 2012. I gave the society’s promoters fair opportunity to defend themselves, but they failed. So today, I have ordered vesting of the land, including buildings existing at the site, in the government… mainly due to no activity towards the purpose for which the land was obtained by the society.”
When contacted, Bhushan, who is secretary of KBES, said, “It is apparent that the Deputy Commissioner is acting under instructions from the Chief Minister who is facing serious charges.”
The KBES said the order was biased and illegal. “It is shocking that the oral order was passed by the Deputy Commissioner on a day when the state government was to file objections to the submissions made by us. That the order was passed in the absence of any written objections clearly shows that the entire proceedings were farcical. The Deputy Commissioner passed the order at the behest of the CM. We will appeal against the order in a court of appropriate jurisdiction,” said KBES spokesperson Himanshu Kumar.
The order comes amid proceedings in a PIL filed by Bhushan in the Delhi High Court against Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh alleging money laundering and irregularities in his Income Tax returns. The case is listed for hearing on September 24. In his affidavit in the high court, the CM had alleged that Bhushan was targeting him as the state government had ordered a probe into alleged violations by him (Bhushan) — with regard to land procurement — during the previous BJP regime.
Sources said Bhushan had first approached the then Congress government in 2006, seeking permission to buy the Palampur land to set up a school to be run by the society named after his mother. Permission was finally granted by the previous BJP government led by Prem Kumar Dhumal in 2010, but with a rider that it should be utilised for an educational institute within two years.
The land has been under the scanner for alleged violations of the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act 1972, which pertains to non-utilisation for its desired purpose. The Kangra district administration issued a notice to Bhushan on February 12, 2012, in this connection.
“The order vindicates the Congress’s stand on irregularities committed by the earlier BJP government and favours being shown to Bhushan,” said Congress leader and Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma.
— With inputs from ENS Delhi.