Hope for Manesar farmers as ED takes up land grab case

New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) When farmer families in Haryana's Manesar were selling off their expensive land at throwaway prices in 2004, they never realised that terror and panic that forced them was a well-planned scam by a nexus of builders and the state government. However, 15 years on, the farmers see a ray for hope as the ED has begun its enquiry and recently also attached assets worth over Rs 60 crore in the case.

The probe agency has found out that 400 acres, with a then market value of above Rs 4 crore per acre, in the area, was allegedly purchased by private builders and others from the land owners for only about Rs 100 crore.

Ram Bhateri, a resident of Lakhnaula village (now Nakhdaula) says that she owned about an acre situated right on the Jaipur highway, but when in 2004 when the state government issued an acquisition notice, she was terrified that her land which had a market value of about Rs 4 crore would end up being acquired by the government for a mere Rs 10-15 lakh.

"Since I am illiterate, I depended upon what government officials told me. They told me that my land would fetch me only Rs 10-15 lakh once it was acquired and to get better price, I must sell it to the builders," Bhateri told IANS.

She added that these officials later mediated a deal with a local builder from Sikanderpur who was also the relative of a then state minister. "They told me that Rs 20 lakh is the maximum that I can get, since the land is up for acquisition by government. I agreed."

Another victim of the scam is the same village's Virender Yadav, whose family had sold off ten acres at a price of Rs 72 lakh per acre. He alleged that the land was sold just a week before the notice was published as some Haryana government officials had started to warn him about the land being selected for acquisition.

"Many officials used to visit my house and warn me about the land losing its value once the notice was out. One day, our family decided to agree with them and sell the land to a builder based in Delhi," Yadav said.

"They offered Rs 70 lakhs per acre and allowed a bargaining space of only Rs two lakh for us. After the deal was done, they sold the land to another builder at double the rate," he added.

According to Yadav, the land that was worth Rs 4 crore in 2004 is now valued at over Rs 12 crore per acre. Yadav, along with many other farmers, now demand compensation for their losses.

Several farmers and land owners alleged that they had been cheated to the tune of about Rs 1,500 crore in the case, in which Congress leader and then Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is one of the accused.

It has been alleged that initially the Haryana government issued a notification under the Land Acquisition Act for acquiring 912 acres for setting up an model industrial township.

After this, all the land was allegedly been grabbed from its owners by private builders at meagre rates.

It was also alleged that an order was passed on August 24, 2007 by the competent authority, the Director of Industries, releasing this land from the acquisition process - but in violation of the government policy - in favour of the builders, their companies and agents, instead of the original land owners.

The Enforcement Directorate had in September 2016 filed a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in the alleged land scam deal on the basis of a Haryana Police FIR.

Recently, the agency attached assets worth nearly Rs 67 crore in the case.

--IANS

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