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Monday, May 20, 2024

District Judge comes under cloud in Indian Air Force airfield grabbing case

The role played by a district judicial officer in dealing with the multi-crore scam pertaining to the grabbing of an Indian Air Force airfield in Ferozepur has raised eyebrows in Punjabs legal circles.

The standing counsel for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on March 6, 2023, informed the Ferozepur Civil Judge Jasvir Singh that “vendor, vendees, revenue authorities… few officials of the judiciary are involved… in the massive fraud.”

The MoD was opposing the fraudsters’ execution petition based on and emanating from a surreptitiously procured decree from the court of Additional District Judge Sachin Sharma in 2019.

Giving a backgrounder of the airfield, MoD’s counsel told the court that the British government acquired 982.02 acres of land for an all-weather airfield in 1942. The compensation for the acquired land was duly paid to the owners as there were no pending claims. During Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure, a scheme to “Grow More” food grains was started. There was food scarcity in the country. All the vacant parts of the 982.02 acres of the Ferozepur airfield land were leased-out to about 40 farming families titling them as farm managers.

Later, after the green revolution, the lessees were asked to vacate the land. The government had to initiate legal action under the Public Premises (eviction) Act 1971. Finally, all the lessee farm managers who tilled the land were evicted on Supreme Courts orders.

Interestingly, in 1997, Usha Ansal, the General Power of Attorney (GPA) holder, given by Madan Mohan Lal Ansal, sold off 15 acres of land, out of the airfield’s total 982.02 acres. It happened by manipulating records in connivance with revenue officials. The involvement of the then SDM DPS Kharbanda, who now stands promoted to the IAS, is abundantly clear in records. Madan Mohan Lal Ansal died in 1991, thereby turning the GPA infructuous. Yet sale deeds were registered in 1997 and mutation (Intikal) was done in 2001.

Armed with the mutations, the 5-new owners, Jagir Singh, Dara Singh (one) Dara Singh (two) Manjit Kaur, Surjit Kaur and Mukhtiar Singh, moved the civil court demanding that the land be restored to them as the Army had illegally and forcibly evicted them in 2006. The court of Gurpreet Kaur, JMIC, dismissed their petition in 2014.

The five fraudsters filed an appeal in the court of Additional District Judge (ADJ) K.K.Goyal, which was dismissed in default on March 21, 2017, on the grounds of non-appearance on 40 dates fixed for hearings. Then, to get the case revived, a restoration application (legally called Civil Miscellaneous (CM) application), was moved before the same judge. But again, nobody appeared in court for over 2 years.

Later, ADJ Sachin Sharma replaced K. K. Goyal on transfer. Sharma took up the restoration application on April 30, 2019, for the first time. After summer vacation in June, the ADJ held the next hearing on August 4, 2019, though the date announced and fixed in the open court was August 5. On August 4, without deciding on the restoration application, Sachin Sharma summoned the complete record of the dismissed case. According to legal experts, the judge could not have called for the complete record without reviving (restoring) a dead case file.

On August 19, the counsel for MoD moved an application before ADJ Sachin Sharma, praying that a spot inspection be done of the airfield to establish who was in possession of the land and to see if any crop was standing on the 15 acres of the concrete airstrip bearing khasra number 71. It was requested that a team comprising revenue officials, engineers and a court-authorised local commissioner inspect the spot before reviving a dismissed case.

Setting a record of sorts, ADJ Sachin Sharma dismissed the MoD request on August 20 in a hearing before lunch, terming it premature. In the after lunch’s inconclusive hearing, he writes on file, “to come up on August 24 for further hearing on the main appeal.” On August 24, he wrote, fixed for arguments on the restoration application on August 25.

On the next hearing on August 25, fixed for arguments on the restoration application, ADJ Sharma first allowed the Civil Miscellaneous application, restoring a dismissed case. And, after lunch the same day, allowed the main appeal.

He did not give MoD any opportunity to argue against allowing the appeal. The matter was decided in the absence of counsel. The judge, in his order, directed the MoD to vacate and hand over the 15 acres of costly land to the 5 new owners.

Indianarrative.com got in touch with ADJ Sachin Sharma, now posted in Chandigarh. Sharma said that he could not speak without the permission of the High Court’s Registrar (General), Ramesh Kumar Dimri. He did not reply to some queries emerging from the case proceedings that were sent on his WhatsApp phone number.

This correspondent emailed the same queries to Registrar Dimri seeking answers from the ADJ. Even after 3-days of waiting, Dimri did not get back.

-By Indianarrative.com

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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