The Jalandhar wing of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday conducted raids at 14 places in three districts — Hoshiarpur, Mohali, and Ludhiana — and in Chandigarh in connection to the 2017 Shamlat (village common land) ‘scam’ case.
Shamlat land or common land of the village belongs to the panchayat and not to any individual person. The village panchayat can collectively take decisions for its development or giving it on lease for cultivation to villagers and the income from it goes to the village panchayat’s account. No individual person can purchase such land, even from the panchayat.
Officials said that the residences of the main accused in the case — a property dealer and the then Naib Tehsildar, Varinderpal Dhoot — were raided at four places in three districts.
According to officials, the ED had conducted 14 teams who conducted simultaneous raids at 14 places and seized documents and other records related to mutations of the Shamlat land and the properties owned by the accused.
The alleged scam took place in 2017 in Seonk village in Mohali district and the state Vigilance Bureau had first registered an FIR in the case in November 2020 against 11 suspects, under various sections of fraud, cheating, conspiracy, losses to the government exchequer and under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The Vigilance Bureau had also arrested several accused in connection to the case, including the then Majri Naib Tehsildar, Dhoot, who was later released on bail.
Later, the Enforcement Directorate had lodged an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) — also known as the first official document recorded by the Enforcement Directorate before beginning its investigation — on March 30, 2021, in wrong mutations case and started investigations, following which Tuesday’s raids were conducted.
Sources said that the ED will now summon all the accused to its office, one by one, for their questioning.
The Vigilance Bureau during its investigations in the case had found that while doing mutations of the 1295 acres of Shamlat land in Seonk village, approximately 117 acres of share were altered by reducing the shares of 24 beneficiaries who were not even residents of this village.
Due to the increase and decrease in shares of beneficiaries, a difference of 99 acres, 4 kanal, 14.32 marla was found. Many shareholders, in whose name mutations were endorsed, were not even residents of the village and could not be traced during the vigilance inquiry. Vigilance Bureau sleuths said that crores of rupees were earned by the accused in this scam.
The investigating officers said that the accused got the Shamlat land on the names of various beneficiaries with the help of forged documents to show that the land belongs to them and not to the village. The beneficiaries, all aides of the main accused, then sold their plots at a high rates, thereby earning a huge amount, estimated to be in crores.
According to the Vigilance Bureau FIR, there were a total of 11 suspects in the case — Naib Tehsildar, Varinderpal Dhoot, Kanoongo, Raghbir Singh, Patwari, Iqbal Singh, Numberdar, Gurnam Singh, property dealer, Sham Lal, along with Balbir Singh, Tarsem Lal, Jaswinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Manbir Singh and Kabal Singh.
Dhoot is also facing a case of disproportionate assets, which was started by the Vigilance Bureau in February this year.