Defence land scam goes up to Rs 800 cr

Defence land scam goes up to Rs 800 cr

12 May 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Defence land scam near Srinagar International Airport might touch over Rs 800 crore as investigations revealed that No Objection Certificates (NOC) for raising constructions over military land had been issued by the then Defence Estates Office involved nearly 1600 kanals of prime land. Investigations being conducted by the CBI wings of Jammu, Srinagar and New Delhi so far have revealed that prime military land near Srinagar International Airport, which would have been converted into commercial land under a nexus between the then Defence Estate Officials, Revenue staff and property dealers, had an estimated value of about Rs 800 crore. Official sources, however, told the Excelsior that the amount could go up as the investigations progressed. 'This appeared to be first major Defence land scam of the country under which the Defence Estate Officials had themselves connived with Revenue officials, property dealers and some local persons to sell military land’’, they said, adding that the CBI would get the NOCs declared as null and void to get land restored to the Defence authorities. 'A process in this regard was being initiated’’, sources said. A CBI team from New Delhi headed by DySP Sandeep Choudhary, which had yesterday conducted raids at the residence of Vijay Kumar, SDO-I Rajouri, then posted in Defence Estate Office at Srinagar, today visited holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi ji and would start scrutiny of seized documents including bank accounts and pen drive of the official from tomorrow. Sources pointed out that as per Army manual, there had been no provision to give NOCs for Defence land. It was only the Union Cabinet, which was empowered to issue NOC for the Defence land. The accused officials had violated the guidelines, they said. Presently, the CBI investigations were centered around Vijay Kumar, Ajay Chowdhary, a 1997 batch Defence Estate Official and Anju Sharma, all of whom were posted at Defence Estate Office at Srinagar at the time when 74 NOCs were issued for sale of military land near Srinagar International Airport. Other names would surface during scrutiny of the documents and questioning of the three officials, which was expected to start very soon. A FIR No. 7-2012 under various provisions of anti-corruption laws of Centre and State Governments has been registered against the three officials at Delhi branch of the CBI. Quoting from preliminary investigations, sources said the well knit conspiracy appeared to have been hatched by the Defence Estate Officials, Revenue officials of the State Government, property dealers and some private persons to convert Defence land into commercial or private land and dispose it off. As the land was located at prime place near the Srinagar International Airport, money worth several crores was reported to have exchanged hands for issuance of NOCs for conversion of title of land from military to civil, sources said. They added that Revenue officials of the State including some of them holding higher ranks at the time of issuance of NOCs, property dealers and private persons involved in the scam stood identified and would be called for questioning after the interrogation of three Defence Estate Officials was completed. Sources said the scam had surfaced when some persons, who had been issued NOCs of the land, sought compensation from the Defence on the ground that it was their land and military had encroached upon it. While taking up the cases of compensation, the military authorities detected that it, in fact, their land and civilians had gained its illegal possession by managing NOCs through fraudulent means. Sources said title of entire 1600 kanals of land now would be restored in favour of the military authorities by getting the NOCs declared as null and void. The Revenue authorities would be issued directions shortly on this account, they added. According to sources, the CBI could shortly go for more searches to trace some documents pertaining to issuance of NOCs. The CBI had yesterday conducted raids at Jammu, Ambala, New Delhi and Patna in search of documents at the houses of Defence Estate officials, then posted in Srinagar. The CBI has seized important documents, laptops, pen drive etc during the raids, which would be scrutinized for further investigations. The BJP’s Anti-Scams Committee led by MP Kirit Somaiya and J&K Co-ordinator Dr Jitendera Singh had first unearthed the scam and submitted all documents along with a detailed report prepared by them after visiting the spot to Defence Minister A K Antony. The Defence Ministry had first studied the report at its own level, got the matter inquired and formally handed over the case to the CBI for detailed investigations. Sources said the CBI after holding thorough probe into the scam carried out simultaneous raids today. Sources said the CBI had also conducted enquiry into the records of the Directorate General of Defence Estates and the local revenue, following a request from the Defence Ministry to probe the sanction of the NOC for sale of this land in Srinagar. Defence Minister A K Antony had last year informed Parliament that on receipt of complaint, a preliminary enquiry was conducted during which it was found that prima-facie there have been irregularities in the issuance of NOCs which may have wider implications. According to the probe report of the Defence Ministry, some of the land belonging to Defence remains in the name of private persons or State Government in revenue records, which is a cause of concern as a few persons may take advantage... and enter into fraudulent sale-purchase transaction. The Directorate General of Defence Estates (DGDE) looks after the land for training, ranges, depots, airfields, quartering, camping and offices for military activities. Ministry of Defence owns 17.53 lakh acres of land, out of which approximately 1.57 lakh acres is situated within the 62 notified cantonments and about 15.96 lakh acres is outside these cantonments. According to sources, it was alleged that a huge area of Defence Ministry land near a sensitive zone in Srinagar was suspected to have been taken by private persons in connivance with officials of Revenue Department of J&K State and Directorate General of Defence Estates (DGDE), Srinagar. There was no provision to issue NOC by the office of DGDE for the purpose of sale or purchase of Defence owned or occupied land, they said. As per the existing rules, Defence land cannot be alienated to anyone without prior approval but the accused officials allegedly entered into criminal conspiracy with unknown private persons and issued NOCs for the purpose of sale or purchase of Defence land measuring 12.25 acres, which was neither owned by Defence Ministry or by the State Government. Similarly, NOCs were issued for about 1600 kanals of land. On the basis of these unauthorisedly issued NOCs by Defence Estate Office, certain private persons dishonestly and fraudulently managed to execute the sale deeds and attestation of mutation of the Defence land, sources said. Some of the private persons had approached Deputy Commissioner of Budgam and the Court seeking compensation on the basis of sale deed executed against such Defence land and attestation of mutation thereof, sources said. The agency had registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) into the matter last year during which it claimed to have found evidences that NOCs were granted to private persons for this prime and strategic piece of land arbitrarily. The PE has been converted into regular FIR.