Perturbed over the permanent political mileage being given to BJP MP Anurag Thakur, president of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government finally took over the Dharamsala cricket stadium and all other HPCA properties in the wee hours of Sunday. The action of acquiring the stadium and the adjoining Pavilion Hotel, meant to house international cricketers was taken after a Cabinet meeting on Saturday.

The government also decided to take over and cancel the land lease given to the HPCA at Lalpani in Shimla town, Gumma in Kotkhai in rural Shimla, Luhnu in Bilaspur and Nadaun in Hamirpur district. The HPCA has for a long time been headed by Mr. Thakur, who is also son of former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and a two-time Lok Sabha member from Hamirpur.

The government has directed the Deputy Commissioner of Kangra to take the required actions to take over the HPCA properties. In a past midnight drama, the locks of the cricket stadium were forcibly broken by government officials since the caretaker refused to give the keys.

HPCA spokesperson Sanjay Sharma has expressed surprise over the government action and said the association was not even informed of this action.

Similar acquisition proceedings were followed in the neighbouring Nadaun cricket stadium in Hamirpur district around 3.30 a.m.

The State Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau had registered a case against the HPCA and the Registrar of Cooperative Societies had served a show-cause notice to the HPCA asking it to explain how the society was converted into a registered company. Fearing action against it if remained under the State-controlled Registrar Cooperative Societies, the HPCA had turned itself into a registered company before the change of government in the State.

Additional Chief Secretary Deepak Sanan and the then Kangra Deputy Commissioner R.S. Gupta were chargesheeted on the issue of giving land lease to the HPCA.

The decision of takeover of the HPCA properties has been hailed by CPI (M) leader Tikender Panwar, who said the land given to the HPCA on a platter was not that of the government but belonged to the common villagers.

He said the stadia should be changed into multi sports activity centres and be allowed to be used by everybody.

The sports bodies should not become the private properties of a family, individual or a political party, he added.

Wide resentment prevailed among the cadres of the BJP on this forceful takeover of cricket stadiums in the State by the Virbhadra government. BJYM State president Sunil Thakur said the efforts of Dhumal-led HPCA, that had constructed the picturesque Dharamsala stadium, had brought the backward hill State on the international tourism and sports map.

He said the government’s past midnight action of a callous acquisition of the HPCA properties reminded the “emergency era mindset” of the Congress party.

A number of BJP MLAs and senior leaders have also condemned the government action and said the Chief Minister was scared of Mr. Anurag Thakur’s growing popularity in the hill State.