August 14, 2020 11:13:26 pm
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has launched an investigation under Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) into the land deals in Haryana entered into by the descendants of Colonel James Skinner — who raised one of the oldest cavalry regiments of the Indian Army, Skinner’s Horse — through two individuals who hold power of attorney for them.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that the ED sent a notice to the holders of the power of attorney on May 5 titled,”Investigation under the provisions of FEMA, 1999 in the matter of Skinner’s Horse”.
Skinner’s properties worth several hundred of crores lie chiefly in the Hansi city and several villages in Haryana’s Hisar district, and in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad, and Uttarakhand’s Mussoorie. These were part of ‘Jagirs’ bestowed on Skinner for the services he rendered to the British by raising units of Irregular Cavalry, which later became a part of the regular Indian Army in the 19th century.
The ED has asked two individuals, Ashwini Kumar and Major Balwant Singh (retd), to furnish self attested copies of the General Power of Attorney (GPA) held by them for transacting immoveable property of the Skinner family in India. They have also been asked to give details of bank accounts held by them, details of all property transactions executed with Skinner family along with the financial transaction details and Income Tax returns of the last five years.
The Skinner family, as per the documents, made 13 land deals between 2012 and 2020 through Kumar and Major Balwant. A total of 109 kanals and 127 marlas of land were sold in these deals, the official value of which has been shown as approximately Rs 15.21 crore.
Kumar confirmed that he has been served a notice by the ED. “We have submitted the documents asked for by the ED. We are yet to be called for personal questioning. That may happen after August 15. I do not know why this investigation is taking place. It may be the work of some miscreants,” said Kumar.
He added that he knew the family for the past 40 years as his father used to till the ancestral land of the Skinners’ and that Major Balwant was a former officer of Skinner’s Horse Regiment and was also known and trusted by the family. Asked about the role of the regiment in the land deal, Ashwini said, “I do not understand how the role of the regiment has cropped up suddenly. Where was the regiment for nearly 200 years now? If you can find out (the role) and let me know I shall be grateful.”
The ED has reportedly asked for the original will of Skinner to be produced. Skinner died in December 1841 and while there is one unattested document, which quotes him to have left his property to his five sons — Joseph, James, Hercules, Alexander and Thomas — it is not known if it is authentic.
When asked for comments, Advocate Pervez Chaudhary, who is representing the GPA holders, said, “We are handling the matter of Col Skinner and his descendants at the office of the ED. We have submitted all the documents required by ED. The investigation is going on and we are fully cooperating with them”.
Skinner’s living descendants are now settled in the United Kingdom, the USA, and Australia. A 94-year-old relative lives in an infirm state in Mussoorie, said Kumar.
Earlier, in January this year, an issue had erupted after a BJP leader from Hansi accused his own party’s leader local MLA of illegally purchasing 28 acres of Skinner family’s land in Mam Ka Bagh area and developing an unauthorised colony at the site. Rajesh Thakral had accused lawmaker Vinod Bhayana of illegally using the power of attorney to transfer the land, after the death of the executor. Though Thakral had presented to the media an affidavit purportedly of the land agreement between Bhayana, and two others — Omprakash Panghal and Prem Kumar Garg — the MLA had brushed aside the allegations claiming that he or his family didn’t own any land in Mam ka Bagh area. He had said he was ready for any probe.
Who was James Skinner
James Skinner was born in 1778 in Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Lt Col Herculese Skinner of Scottish descent and an Indian mother. His father was an officer in East India Company. Due to his part-Indian identity he was not eligible to serve in the East India Company’s Army so he joined the forces of Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior
After the Anglo-Maratha War of 1803, Skinner was dismissed from service by Scindia and was recruited by Lord Lake who asked him to raise a regiment of ‘Irregular Cavalry’. On February 23, 1803 the first Indian cavalry regiment was raised at Hansi, Haryana and was called Skinner’s Horse. It was in 1818 that Skinner was given a ‘Jagir’ in Hansi.
In 1823, the regiment was re-named 1st (Skinner’s) Local Horse. In 1840, it was re-named 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry and in 1861 it was again changed to 1st Regiment Bengal Cavalry.
Following the reorganisation of Indian Army in1921, two regiments of Skinner’s Horse were amalgamated and the regiment was named 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse). In 1950, after India became a republic the regiment was finally named 1st Horse (Skinner’s Horse).
The regiment has taken part in First Afghan War, First Sikh War, Second Sikh War, Second Afghan War, Boxer Rebellion, First World War, Second World War and post Independence operations.
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