Jalandhar Bypass 4-laning project shelved after NHAI finds irregularities in land deals

Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Sources in the NHAI said that when the matter came to their notice through a complaint by RTI activist Rajiv Vashisth, they initiated an internal inquiry and found suspicious land deals on the lines of the Hoshiarpur land scam.

The much talked about Jalandhar Bypass four-laning project has been shelved by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) after it found several irregularities in land deals executed in some Jalandhar villages by the alleged land mafia, much before NHAI could acquire this land for the bypass.

The NHAI was to acquire 392 acres for this project from 26 villages to construct the 29.5 km bypass, which was to connect NH-71 with NH-70 from Chuhardwali village in Jalandhar to Phagwara Road via Talhan village. With this bypass, two more bypasses were to be connected in Hoshiarpur and Phagwara to provide a hassle-free journey between Punjab, Himachal and Haryana. A notification for the bypass was issued in February last year following which a notice was to be issued by NHAI before acquiring land for the project.

However, sources said that land mafia, which got to know about this beforehand, purchased agricultural land from the villagers and got them converted into commercial properties by getting the change of land use (CLU) to fetch four times more compensation.

Sources in the NHAI said that when the matter came to their notice through a complaint by RTI activist Rajiv Vashisth, they initiated an internal inquiry and found suspicious land deals on the lines of the Hoshiarpur land scam. The Punjab government too had conducted an inquiry on the recommendation of the Prime Minister s Office (PMO).

Several shady land deals had been executed in over two dozen villages where estimated 392 acres land was to be acquired, said a senior officer, adding that over a dozen people from Hoshiarpur had purchased land in Jalandhar s villages around two years ago, much before the issuance of the NHAI notification under the National Highway Act, 1956, ostensibly in anticipation that this land shall be acquired for construction of a bypass, thereby catapulting the compensation.

These buyers through CLU got the land changed from agricultural to non-agricultural properties after two years of purchase, said sources.

The NHAI had conducted a physical inquiry and found that even in a case after CLU from agricultural land to commercial where a school building was shown in the CLU, no actual building was found.

A senior officer in NHAI said they have sent a report to the ministry for road transport and highways for deletion of this project for now.

RTI activist s complaint

RTI activist Rajiv Vashisth mentioned in his complaint that irregularities were committed in land acquisition in 26 villages of Jalandhar including Talhan, Kukkarpind and Kotkalan. He also alleged that after fraudulent purchase of land by influential people including businessmen, political leaders, senior police officers and senior administrative officers, the CLU was also to convert these from agriculture to commercial land. The CLU to commercial property made them eligible for huge compensation from NHAI at the time of acquisition of land for the bypass, said the complaint.

He also alleged that as per copies of revenue records, these lands were purchased in 2016 in April, May and August after compensation for Hoshiarpur land acquisition was paid by the NHAI in 2016.

He raised the question of how these people already knew about this land s acquisition by NHAI much before the notice issued by NHAI in February 2018 about its acquisition.

Vashisth said that these is a group of people active which with the connivance of some black sheep in NHAI, have been committing such frauds to earn huge profits while the real owners the farmers are unaware.

The Hoshiarpur land scam

The Hoshiatpur land scam was exposed in June 2016 in which big irregularities were committed by the competent authority appointed for acquiring land for four-laning project from Jalandhar district to Hoshiarpur. The scam pertains to purchase of land by some influential people from farmers at lower rates, which was acquired by the NHAI to undertake four-laning project at exorbitant rates to pocket heavy compensation. As they bought land at the rate pf Rs 30,000 per marla from local people and farmers, and sold it the government at the rate of Rs 6 lakh and Rs 10 lakh per marla (225 sq. ft) by carving out residential colonies and commercial locations on the same land, the rates were much higher than agricultural land.