TOP BJP leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, including current Speaker Nirmal Singh and Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta, purchased, via a company, land right next to the Army’s ammunition depot in Nagrota.
On a 2,000-sq-m plot that is part of an estimated 12 acres bought in 2014, Nirmal Singh has begun constructing a house that has prompted a strong protest letter from the Corps Commander of the Army’s 16 Corps, Lt General Saranjeet Singh.
In the letter, dated March 19, 2018, addressed directly to Nirmal Singh — he was Deputy CM then — Lt Gen Singh said that the house Nirmal Singh has constructed is illegal and “has implications on the security of a major ammunition storage facility as well as the safety of all personnel living in close vicinity of the ammunition depot”.
Lt Gen Singh wrote: “May I request you to reconsider construction of residential accommodation in close proximity of the ammunition depot being a potential safety hazard.”
An Army officer at Nagrota told The Indian Express that Lt General Saranjeet Singh was constrained to write directly to Nirmal Singh because “the local administration was not responding to the Army’s repeated requests to stop construction work” which “is a serous security and safety breach”. But when contacted, Nirmal Singh told The Indian Express that opposition to his construction is “politically motivated”. “I have no legal binding that I cannot do the construction,” he said. “What the Army is claiming, it is their view and not binding on me.’’
The land in question was bought by Himgiri Infrastructure Development Pvt Limited, a company incorporated in 2000, whose shareholders include Kavinder Gupta and BJP MP for Jammu-Poonch Lok Sabha constituency Jugal Kishore.
Himgiri’s portfolio includes a power project in Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh. Incidentally, while Nirmal Singh was Deputy CM in the PDP-BJP coalition until the reshuffle on April 30, he was also in charge of the Power Ministry.
The Corps Commander’s letter to Nirmal Singh minced few words. “I take this opportunity to apprise you about a matter of concern wherein a building is being constructed approximately 530 m (580 yards) from the outer boundary wall of 4 Ammunition Sub Depot at village Ban under Tehsil Nagrota, district Jammu. This construction activity was noticed by Army authorities on 27 October 2017 and on further enquiry, it was reliably learnt that the building under construction belongs to your good self”.
The Corps Commander listed a string of alleged violations. “The construction is in violation of Works of Defence Act (WoDA) 1903 as also Government of India, Ministry of Defence notification dated 26 September 2002. Further, as per notification…issued by DC, Jammu on 7 August 2015, construction activity within one thousand yards of the boundary wall of 4 ASD has been prohibited”.
Brushing aside the Army’s objections, Nirmal Singh told The Indian Express that the ammunition depot has been in Nagrota since the 1970s. “A village called Ban is adjacent to it. During militancy, the Army built a wall around it. They are saying that you can’t construct anything 1000 m from the outer wall of the depot. My house is 530 m. The moment I started construction, there was opposition. It is politically motivated,’’ he said. “They (army) don’t let people construct even a toilet. People are harassed. You should speak to people there. Because it is my house, it is politically motivated. They started objecting. Why don’t they get a stay, they can’t do it”.
“This is my property. I have a right to use this property the way I want to use it. It is my fundamental right and you (Army) can’t encroach. They are giving reference of Raksha Mantri, I am telling them you should have acquired it. I have got the plan of the house passed and they are objecting”.
He said that local residents have made representations to him that the Army is harassing them and isn’t allowing them to use their land. “I brought this to the notice of the Raksha Mantri,’’ he said. “Revenue authorities are asking (questions to Army), people are crying. That isn’t being heard (by the Army) because this is politically motivated”.
When asked about the ownership of the plot, Nirmal Singh said: “The land is owned by Himgiri Infrastructure Private Limited. It is also a power company. My wife (Mamta Singh) is a director of this company. This piece of land where I am constructing the house is in her name.’’
He added: “Our (current) Deputy CM Kavinder Gupta, too, has land. He was a director of the (Himgiri) company. When he became Speaker, he left. But he is a shareholder currently. Jugal ji (MP Jugal Kishore) is also in Himgiri. Surinder Mahajan is our chairman,’’ Nirmal Singh said.
“We were nine friends who had thought to start work. We got a 3 MW project in Himachal. It is 60 km from Chamba city,’’ he said. He said that the power company was started 15 years ago, “I became Deputy CM and Power Minister in 2015. There is no conflict of interest.’’
“We had taken the land (adjacent to the Army’s Ammunition depot in Nagrota) in 2014”. He said that an IIT and an IIM are coming up in the same area but they are more than 1000 m away. “There shouldn’t have been an ammunition depot at this place,’’ he said. When contacted, Deputy CM Kavinder Gupta confirmed that he was a director in Himgiri. “Yes, I own land there. I haven’t constructed anything,’’ he said. When asked about the Army’s objections, he declined to comment.
When contacted, BJP MP for Jammu-Poonch Lok Sabha constituency Jugal Kishore said: “We took up a 3 MW power project in Chamba but it failed as we could not arrange more money to run it,’’ he said. “I do not know the current status of the project.”
He denied knowledge regarding purchase of land at Nagrota. “I did not continue with it,” he said. “To raise funds, we had included more people in the company but they too did not have enough money with them”. Despite repeated calls, Deputy Commissioner of Jammu district, in which Nagrota falls, was unavailable for comment.