It is not only Haryana’s whistle-blower IAS officer Ashok Khemka who has raised the alarm about widespread misappropriation of panchayat lands in the State by VIPs but also the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which expressed a similar concern on the issue, even as the Haryana government consistently dismissed it as “a non-issue.”

When Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka apprised the State government about Robert Vadra’s allegedly irregular land deals late last year, he had also raised the issue of large-scale misappropriation of panchayat lands by bureaucrats and VIPs. The Haryana government has consistently brushed aside both issues on the ground that “there is nothing in them that merits an enquiry.”

It now turns out that days after Mr. Khemka reiterated this in his 100-page submission to the government on May 21, in which he gave details of some key villages where there is rampant misuse of rules to corner panchayat lands, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered an inquiry into land deals in one of the villages identified by him. The matter relates to Kalesar in Yamunagar district where evidence provided by Mr. Khemka to the government suggested that industrial houses and senior bureaucrats were misappropriating prime forested panchayat land for farmhouses in this scenic area. The land is adjoining the famous Kalesar wildlife sanctuary.

In an interview to The Hindu on August 27, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, while replying to a question about misappropriation of panchayat lands, said that the committee appointed by his government had enquired into everything and found no wrongdoing. He further said, “Everything has been clarified by our committee. Mr. Khemka is making an issue out of a non-issue.”

This, when the High Court, acting on a petition by the Kalesar gram panchayat on May 30, had directed the Deputy Commissioner, Yamunanagar, to enquire into all deals in his area where shamlat deh (village common lands) have been transferred to people without rights, title or interest and initiate criminal or civil proceedings against the offenders. The gram panchayat had informed the court about an agreement to sell 15 acres of land belonging to the panchayat by two persons, for which a civil suit was filed to execute the sale deed.

The suit was rejected by the civil judge in Yamunagar but in 2009 was upheld by the additional district judge, even though he had recorded that the land belonged to the panchayat who was not a party in the suit. The High Court, while setting aside the order of the lower court, noted: “It is rather surprising that private parties executed an agreement to sell, filed a civil suit and the additional judge decreed the suit.” It further notes, “The agreement to sell and the suit are a fraud on the Village Common Lands Act 1961 and the gram panchayat.” The court also observed that many other similar sale deeds had been executed in the area and wondered how the Registrar of documents had permitted the deeds on village common lands belonging to gram panchayats.

In his submission to the government on Kalesar, Mr. Khemka had pointed out that a common modus operandi was adopted to transfer the possessory rights on panchayat lands without authorisation. Pointing out one such case, he had said, “A particularly shocking case was that of a senior IAS officer retired in the rank of additional chief secretary who is now re-employed as chairman of a regulatory body. He is reported to have constructed a building near the Kalesar rest house on panchayat land in the name of his nephew.” This matter and other cases of unauthorised transfer of panchayat lands were brought to the notice of the Revenue department by Mr. Khemka in October, but his notes says that “the Revenue department maintained a discomfortingly unholy silence.”

Significantly, one of the officers who was tasked with enquiring into Mr. Khemka’s allegations on the Vadra and panchayat land scams was Revenue Secretary Krishan Mohan.