Himachal reclaims Prashant Bhushan’s land

Shimla : In a setback to lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the Himachal Pradesh government Wednesday reclaimed a chunk of prime land in a tea garden allotted to the senior counsel and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader for constructing an educational institute.

“The government ordered to take over the possession of the land allotted to Prashant Bhushan,” Deputy Commissioner C. Paulrasu told IANS.

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He said the government found a number of discrepancies in purchase of land under Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972.

The previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allowed Bhushan’s Kumud Bhushan Educational Society, named after his mother, to purchase 4.68 hectares of land in a tea plantation in Palampur town in Kangra district, some 250 km from here.

The sale deed of the land was registered by the educational society in March, 2010.

Paulrasu said the education society had failed to achieve milestones like completing construction work within two years. “They (the respondents) have no concrete proof, beyond doubt, that some education institute is running there,” said the order.

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 an official, who was part of the team that was associated with a 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 had 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 had 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.

The CBI filed its final status report in the court Sep 1 on its probe into allegations of graft, money laundering and forgery cases against Virbhadra Singh. The next hearing in the case is Sep 24.

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.