Saturday, February 4, 2023

Prashant Bhushan’s tea garden land buy raises storm


Shimla, Nov 24 (IANS) A storm is brewing over the purchase of a chunk of prime land in a tea garden in Himachal Pradesh by Aam Aadmi Party leader and lawyer Prashant Bhushan for constructing an educational institute.

The state government has now speeded up proceedings against Bhushan’s Kumud Bhushan Educational Society, named after his mother, that was allowed by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to purchase 4.68 hectares of land in a tea plantation.

Kangra Deputy Commissioner C. Paulrasu told IANS that the government found a number of discrepancies in the land use norms.

He said proceedings initiated on the basis of a notice issued by the government to the educational society in February 2012 to repossess the land have commenced under Section 118 of the Land Reforms and Tenancy Act.

The educational society has been served notice to appear for a hearing Dec 9 in the court of the Dharamsala district magistrate.

Paulrasu said the district administration has already completed its probe into the society’s land deal.

“We have sought clarification from the state government on some points of inquiry and we got the reply,” he said, adding that the society had failed to achieve milestones like completing construction work within two years.

The sale deed of the land in Palampur in Kangra district, some 250 km from here, was registered by the educational society in March 2010.

The ruling Congress, then in the opposition, had accused the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP government of violating statutory provisions in extending favours to Bhushan’s society and enabling it to purchase land worth several crores of rupees for just a few lakh rupees.

The education society has so far constructed a rest house, an open-air theatre, a cow shed and toilets, said a government official, who is part of the team that is associated with the probe against the society.

“The raised structures are not as per land use norms. Even the constitution of the educational society has flaws. It mainly comprises family members of Prashant Bhushan,” the official, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.

He said the land was allotted to run an educational institute, but “so far, the society has not got itself affiliated with any institute or university”.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh Thursday accused Bhushan of levelling charges against him in a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court as he was apprehending legal action on the land purchase.

“Independent investigation is going on into the purchase of a tea garden by Bhushan. Apprehending legal action in this illegal land purchase case, Bhushan as counsel for Common Cause has filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court against me, levelling same old charges,” the chief minister said in a statement.

A PIL was filed by Bhushan seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe against Virbhadra Singh for alleged corruption when he was steel minister in the central government. It will come up for hearing Nov 27.

The chief minister said Bhushan had purchased the tea garden in the name of Kumud Bhushan Educational Society, which legally he could not as there was a total ban on selling tea gardens in the state to non-agriculturists.

“This matter of illegal purchase of the tea garden by Bhushan was also vociferously raised by political parties during the movement of Anna Hazare, of which he was a part,” he added.

According to the state’s laws, land-use of a tea garden could not be changed, as such gardens are exempt under the land ceiling act.

Repeated attempts to contact Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan over the phone by this reporter for comments proved futile.

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