A phony committee to investigate land-scams
Posted November 3, 2009on:
The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government of Madhya Pradesh, which is reportedly being guided by a big builder (who has become yet bigger during the Chauhan regime) has declared war on land mafia. Chauhan has constituted a one-man committee to investigate the land scams during the past 30 years. Interestingly, he made the announcement at the small town of Seoni. No notification for the constitution of the committee, though, has been issued.
A few days earlier, urban administration and development minister Babulal Gaur, who is also a former chief minister, had declared war on those who had encroached government land to set up slums or to park their thelas (carts or trolleys) on which they hawk vegetables or other merchandise. Gaur has threatened to invoke National Security Act (NSA) against them. Most of such encroachers have been getting protection from Congress leaders but some BJP leaders have also joined the fray in the past few years.
Chauhan’s announcement is quite interesting because he has himself been accused of distributing the government land to the selected class at throwaway prices. Besides, the choice of the officer, public relations commissioner Manoj Shrivastava, to investigate the land scam is no less interesting.
Shrivastava was a confidante of Digvijay Singh during the Congress regime and was appointed Collector of Indore, a post reserved only for those officers who enjoy full trust of the chief minister. There he dynamited a tower belonging to a local Congress leader who had stood up to Digvijay Singh. Shrivastava had justified his action on the ground that a part of the tower was on the encroached land. He had also announced that he had a list of all those multi-storey complexes which had their extensions on the encroached land and all these would be destroyed in the similar manner. However, no other building was touched.
When the BJP came to power, Shrivastava endeared himself to the Parivar leaders and became a prominent member of the unofficial think-tank of the BJP. Digvijay Singh’s annoyance at his former protégé’s “defection” was once reflected in the former chief minister’s vitriolic observations about Manoj Shrivastava in the Assembly (Singh generally would not mention by name those who were not present in the Assembly, particularly the IAS officers).
Even Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Jamuna Devi had complained to the union ministry of personnel against Manoj Shrivastava’s working like a BJP activist rather than an IAS officer. Suresh Pachauri, who was named as the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, was still holding charge of the Department of Personnel as Minister of State. Jamuna Devi was hoping that Pachauri would initiate action against Shrivastava but he did not. According to a Pachauri confidante, Pachauri was hoping to become the chief minister after the 2008 Assembly elections and was foreseeing the utility of such pliable officers.
In any case, the land business has become quite a favourite pastime of the chief ministers for some time. If Digvijay Singh was not sincere, only ninnies can expect the Gaurs and Chauhans to work sincerely to rescue the public land from the marauders.
Soon after taking over as chief minister in December 1993, Digvijay Singh had constituted a one-man committee to go into the land allotments made in urban areas by the BJP Government of Sunderlal Patwa between March 1990 and December 1992. Jagatpati, a former chief secretary of the State, was appointed to head the inquiry committee.
The Jagatpati committee submitted 37 reports during its six-year term. Five of the reports related to the Chhattisgarh region and were sent there for action.
In Madhya Pradesh, the thrust for making allotments in violation of the law and rules was mainly on then chief minister Sunderlal Patwa and Babulal Gaur, who was a senior minister in the BJP government. Digvijay Singh took no action except for occasionally flaunting the inquiry report at BJP leaders who would becam a bit too cantankerous during some debate in the Assembly. Digvijay Singh had, in fact, obliged Patwa and his cronies by regularising some of the illegal allotments.
When Babulal Gaur was the chief minister, Leader of Opposition Jamuna Devi had moved a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, at Jabalpur, praying for a direction to the CBI to register an FIR and conduct the investigation in the light of the Jagatpati Committee Report for offences punishable under Sections 120-B, 409, 420, 467, 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) read with Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, against Babulal Gaur and several high level bureaucrats. She had also sought a directive to restrain Gaur and others from any attempt to circumvent the Jagatpati Committee Report to save the guilty.
Jamuna Devi was alarmed when Gaur retrieved the report from the cold storage and appointed a secretaries’ committee to examine it and submit the Action Taken Report (ATR). She had seen in it an attempt to “close any action required in law to be taken” against Gaur and the public servants indicted in the report of the Jagatpati Committee.
Even as nothing had come out of Jamuna Devi’s petition, Gaur was replaced by Shivraj Singh Chauhan as the chief minister. Chauhan started playing his own games of land allotment. According to a case registered by the Lokayukta on a complaint by PCC spokesman K.K.Mishra, the BJP government had made 67 allotments (at nominal prices) measuring over 200 acres of land at Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Khandwa, Balaghat, Pipariya, Shyopur, Sagar and other places, valued at between Rs 500 crore and Rs 600 crore.