Now state-sponsored corruption in Uttarakhand

Corruption has taken a new leaf in Uttarakhand. It is now state-sponsored corruption, if the manner in which land has been acquired in the past in the garb of industrializing this small hill state and given to private builders for peanuts, who have then sold it at sky-high prices. But no one has battered an eye-lid.

Dehra Dun : Corruption has taken a new leaf in Uttarakhand. It is now state-sponsored corruption, if the manner in which land has been acquired in the past in the garb of industrializing this small hill state and given to private builders for peanuts, who have then sold it at sky-high prices. But no one has battered an eye-lid.

With Corruption Everyone Pays

According to reports in the last 24 years that Uttarakhand came into being, over 53,500 hectares of agricultural land has been diverted.

A large chunk of this diversion has taken place in Nainital and Udhamsingh Nagar districts in the terai region, where land is in great demand by builders and colonizers for the huge profits that they get.

Reports claim that over 7300 hectares of agricultural kand was diverted in these two districts alone in the last 14 years.

What is all the more alarming is that extension farms of the Pantnagar University, where precious research work is undertaken in agriculture and passed on to farmers in the country, were also acquired by the Uttarakhand government.

Incidentally Pantnagar University is the first agriculture University of India and has the unique distinction of blending technology with agriculture.

It was dedicated to the nation by the first prime minister of the country Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru on 17 Nov 1960 and was eulogized by Nobel Laureate Dr Norman E Borlaug as harbinger of the green revolution.

Though it has been adjudged as the best ICAR institution in 1997 and again in 2005 and paved the way for setting up of 31 other agricultural universities in the country, yet its farms were also not spared by the Uttarakhand government. Over 600 acres of is farms where precious research work was undertaken by experts was acquired by the state government.

Most of the land that has been acquired by the state government has been in the name of industrialization and given to SIDCUL for setting up of industries.

But industrialists and industries have shied away from this small hill state despite the industrial package because of various factors, frequent power shortage, non availability of skilled manpower and corruption included among them.

In 2004, about 3300 acres of land of the Pantnagar University was acquired by the state government at the rate of Rs 125 per sq metre for setting up of industries but most of it was not taken by entrepreneurs or industrialists, which then under a planned manner was diverted to builders for setting up a housing township.

The formalities were done and even a bidding process was held in which only three companies participated. But there are allegations that the three companies had common names indicating that they were interlinked and as such the bidding was actually being done by just one.

The state government did not think it proper to get the issue of a cartel being formed probed before the process.

The land was sold to a company for about Rs 6000 per sq metre, who after getting the land transferred to its name sold it for Rs 31,000 per sq metre.

This is not all, the state government even acquired 22 acres of land of the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd at Haridwar free of cost for industrialization and gave it to SIDCUL.

But when industrialists did not come forward, it was also decided to sell it for setting up of a housing township to a private company. The land was again sold to the company at the rate of Rs 6500 per sq metre, and if sources are to be believed, this very land may be sold at the exorbitant price of Rs 30,000 per sq metre.

Incidentally, following a petition filed by a resident of the city, Deepak Azad, the Nainital High Court has taken note of this state-sponsored corruption. It has issued notices to the two companies that have bought the land at Haridwar and Pantnagar at the price of peanuts, the state government and SIDCUL and asked them to file their replies in the matter.

What is further appalling is the fact that the state government is flouting the norms of its own committees, having experts from the Pantnagar University, SIDCUL and other government agencies which have recommended that agriculture land should only be diverted after a proper inspection and when it is confirmed that it has little cultivable value.

This diversion of land is being done despite the fact that there is very little primary agricultural land in the state as most of the land in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand is being rendered barren, with villagers leaving their hearth and homes for better facilities and opportunities in the plains. Even state leaders have voiced their concern over the migration from the hilly areas to the plains of the state.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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