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Punjab orders probe after Akali leaders pocket Rs 100 crore compensation

Chandigarh, June 24 (IANS) The Punjab government on Friday ordered a vigilance probe into an alleged scam in which leaders of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, their family members and associates pocketed Rs 100 crore in compensation for land acquired for road construction projects.

The alleged scam in Hoshiarpur district, 140 km from here, was highlighted by media reports.

However, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s order of vigilance probe came much after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which was approached by a RTI activist, had ordered a high-level probe by a senior bureaucrat.

Badal had earlier tried to down-play the scam by asking the Hoshiarpur Deputy Commissioner to conduct an enquiry into the land scam allegations.

“Taking cognizance of the media reports about alleged bungling in the purchase of land by some influential people at lower rates, which was acquired by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to undertake four-laning project in Hoshiarpur district, on exorbitant rates to pocket heavy compensation, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today ordered a vigilance inquiry to probe the entire matter to get at the bottom of the case,” a spokesman of the chief minister’s office said here.

He said that Badal has marked the inquiry to the Chief Vigilance Director “to ascertain the facts which led to these alleged irregularities in the acquisition of land”.

Badal said that anybody found guilty would not be spared at any cost.

“The state government is already fully seized of the matter and anyone, whosoever mighty or influential he may be, would be taken to task for his alleged involvement in the aforesaid acquisition,” he said.

The multi-crore land scam came to light this week after it was found that Akali Dal leaders in Hoshiarpur, their family members and friends had pocketed compensation of nearly Rs 100 crore by buying barren and agricultural land at lower prices from farmers and later showed it as an approved residential colony to seek higher compensation from the state government.

Among the names allegedly involved in the scam include Hoshiarpur Market Committee chairman Avtar Singh Johal, councillor Harpinder Gill and district co-operative bank chairman Satwinder Pal Singh Dhatt.

These Akali leaders, allegedly in connivance with local property dealers and officials, had purchased the land notified by the NHAI for the four-laning of the highway. The land was purchased after the notification was issued in November last year.

The Akali leaders bought the land notified for the road and property rights transferred to the National Highways Authority of India in 2015, built illegal colonies on these sites and pocketed crores in compensation.

Sources in the Hoshiarpur district administration said that land belonging to other farmers who got much less compensation compared to the compensation received by these influential people.

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