The Himachal Pradesh government, which has been facing much criticism for giving land to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Vadra, has cited several rules to show that the state can give land to “eminent persons”. It has been reported that Priyanka Vadra wants to build a cottage, about 15 km uphill of Shimla, at a height of 8,000 feet. Sources said that the land in question is located near the summer retreats of the President of India and the Governor of Punjab.
In an RTI reply to activist Gopal Prasad, the Shimla district administration has cited “Compendium of Rules, Instructions relating to Section 118 of the H.P. Tenancy & Land Reforms Act, 1972” of the Revenue Department, which provides for restriction of transfer of land in favour of a person who is not an agriculturist of the state. The section and rules have been amended from time to time to further the basic intention behind its enactment of protecting the interests of local inhabitants while ensuring that development is not hampered.
As per the rules, a non-agriculturist can acquire land in the state under seven conditions. As per Sub-rule 2, the permission for building a residential house may be granted to people, including “other eminent persons in the spheres of health, education, culture, research, public service, sports and business to be recommended by a committee consisting of three principal secretaries, headed by the Principal Secretary (Revenue)”.
The rules limit the sale of land up to 500 square metres, but not less than 150 square metres. Accordingly, land can be given to winners of Padma awards/gallantry awards and also employees possessing certificates of being a bona fide Himachali.
The Himachal Pradesh High Court recently stayed an order of the State Information Commission that detailed information about the land purchased by Priyanka Vadra, at Chhrabara, near Shimla be given to another RTI activist, Debashish Bhattacharya. The information under the RTI was sought by Bhattacharya in July 2014, but was denied by the Deputy Commissioner on the ground that Priyanka was a high profile person and providing information could have a direct bearing on her security by the Special Protection Group.