By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 28 May: Taking cognisance of some media reports regarding misuse of Arcadia Grant Tea Estate land, Chief Minister has directed a fair inquiry and strict action in the case. Following the direction, District Magistrate Dehradun, Dr R Rajesh Kumar has ordered SDM level inquiry into the land scam. He has ordered the officials and the management of Arcadia Tea Estate to appear before the SDM Office on 30 May, with all the important documents related the land and its land use. The issue first came to public notice when it was found out that though land use of Arcadia Tea Estate as per the official records is restricted to tea plantation only, the land in reality was being put to other uses including growing wheat and vegetables and there were reports of some nexus between the management of the tea estate, the politicians and the officials and through this nexus, there were attempts to get the land use changed.
It was then, the government at the highest level took cognisance of the reports and ordered a high level inquiry into the case. Following this, DM Dehradun R Rajesh Kumar too has ordered SDM level inquiry into the whole affair. However, it remains to be seen, if those behind the scam are ever going to get punished or not. If other similar cases are taken into account, the likelihood of the case being taken to its final logical end, appears rather slim.
It may be recalled that nothing has happened in other similar cases and one huge scam was related to Golden Forest land scam. Most of the land registered in name of Golden Forest Company, which ought to have been vested in the name of the government has been clandestinely sold off to private parties through forged registries right under the nose of the Dehradun district and the state administration and nothing has been done.
It may be recalled that at the time, when Ceiling Act had come into force, tea estates like Arcadia Grant were spared from the land ceiling only on the basis that they were tea estates and the Ceiling Act provides specifically that in case of land being used for any purpose other than tea plantation, it is liable to be vested with the government. However, Arcadia Tea Estate has been into news for wrong reasons in the past too. During the Congress rule in the state and when there was UPA Government in the past, there were reports of involvement of a close relative of Gandhi family in the Arcadia Tea Estate land. Then there were alleged attempts to transfer the land to one particular company belonging to the relative of the Gandhi family and get the land use changed. This happened sometime in 2011. However, before this could be done, it became a matter of public knowledge, thus delaying the process. After that the Congress led UPA lost power at the Centre and in 2017, the Congress lost power in Uttarakhand too. There were some feeble attempts to get the SDM Manish Kumar (IAS) has sent a notice to the officers of Estate Owners and the tea company. Additional Chief Secretary Anand Vardhan, while he headed the Revenue department had clearly mentioned in the file concerning the Arcadia Grant that the land use of the Arcadia Grant was restricted to growing tea plants only, failing which it was liable to vested with the government. As per the provisions of the Ceiling Act, the owners of the Arcadia Grant in case of acquisition of the land by the government under the Ceiling Act, can keep a maximum of 12.5 acres of land with them and rest would be transferred to the government. According to the report of the revenue department, most of the land was being put to other uses including wheat and vegetable cultivation even as the tea plantation was getting sparse in the tea estate. Even then, there have been attempts on part of certain interested parties that the government acquire the said land by paying the compensation at either circle rate or the market price, even when the government can actually acquire the land without paying much compensation using the provisions of the Ceiling Act.
Interestingly, land scams started happening in Dehradun in the nineties when Uttarakhand was part of the undivided Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party ruled Uttar Pradesh and it actively encouraged land sharks such as DP Yadav to engage in shady land deals. After the formation of Uttarakhand, the nexus between the land mafia, property dealers, bureaucrats, officials and the politicians actively engaged in illegal land deals and land use changes as well as permitting illegal construction and encroachment on government land, plotting of agriculture land without any land use change and commercial plotting in residential use land became the order of the day with authorities like MDDA, Nagar Nigam, the revenue officials deliberately looking the other way. Much of land belonging to Golden Forest and under acquisition of the government was done away with illegally though there are innumerable number of cases related to Golden Forest still pending in various courts of Dehradun and the High Court. Another recent case was an attempt to sell off land belonging to a textile mill near Premnagar by changing the land use. This land falls under Cantonment Area and allegations made included the then officials of the DehradunPremnagar Cantonment Board. Unless, those guilty are not severely punished, such scams will only continue to happen.