Shimla: The opposition Congress in Himachal Pradesh Tuesday demanded an inquiry into the allotment of land meant for tea plantation in the state to India Against Corruption (IAC) leader Prashant Bhushan. It sought a probe into possible violations of statutory provisions and administrative procedures for the land transferred to him in Palampur in Kangra district, some 250 km from the state capital, by the Bharatiya Janata Party government.
"We want an independent inquiry into the land transferred to Prashant Bhushan in 2010," former state cabinet minister and senior Congress leader Harsh Mahajan said in Shimla. The Congress' assertion came a day after the IAC asked how Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra was allowed to buy property near Shimla, and which government had granted the permission.
Mahajan asked Bhushan, a Supreme Court lawyer, to clarify his motive in buying the land in the state, where land is limited and there is an embargo on outsiders buying it without government permission. "How was Bhushan allowed to buy the property? The (state) government must clarify," Mahajan said.
A senior government functionary said that Bhushan's Kumud Bhushan Educational Society was allowed to buy 4.68 hectares of land for the construction of an educational institution on February 2, 2010.
Revenue Minister Gulab Singh, in reply to a question, told the state assembly in the last winter session "from Jan 1, 2008, to Nov 30, 2011, land use change" had been allowed under Section 118 of the Land Reforms and Tenancy Act to allow Kumud Bhushan Educational Society of Kandbari (in Kangra district) for purchasing tea gardens. He said the society was run by Prashant Bhushan.
Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee president and five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh said, "There is a violation of the norms on change of land use (from cultivating tea to constructing a school building)".
According to a judicial commission report, which probed 'benami' (illegal) land transactions in the state from 2003 to 2011, it came to notice that land use of tea estates has been permitted by the state government without invoking the provision of the land ceiling act. Justice DP Sood, former judge of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, headed the commission and submitted his 147-page report to the government last April.
Revenue officials said tea gardens in the state have been given special exemption under the ceiling law. The ceiling fixed for tea gardens is 30 acres, whereas for irrigated lands producing two crops and one crop a year it is 10 acres and 15 acres, respectively.