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Ex-Cong MLA embroiled in multi-crore land scam
CAG reveals details of fictitious land acquisition in Ri-Bhoi
SHILLONG: The Forest and Environment department paid Rs 8 crore in favour of former Congress legislator from Umroi SW Rymbai for land acquisition of Mawpalai afforestation area in Ri Bhoi which, however, was already in the possession of the Soil and Water Conservation.
This was revealed in the report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for the year ended March 31, 2015 which was laid in the Assembly on Wednesday.
The Shillong Times had reported the plantation scam in 2012.
The CAG report revealed that the land acquisition proceedings of the Mawpalai afforestation area of 1.78 sq.km were flawed and consequently, an amount of Rs 8 crore was fraudulently released to the village representative for the fictitious land acquisition when actually the land continued to be in the possession of the Soil & Water Conservation department.
According to the CAG, the compensation amount of Rs 8 crore was unauthorizedly paid to. S.W. Rymbai, who claimed to be the self-styled rightful representative of the Village Dorbar and acted as the landowner without any valid and legal authorization by the village Dorbar to that effect.
“Hence, the Government and the Deputy Commissioner, Ri-Bhoi district released Government money to a third party without due diligence and verification of facts and antecedents of the parties involved in the transaction,” the CAG said.
As per the report, with a view to providing environmental amelioration to the degraded forest areas, the Forest and Environment department, in July 2009 proposed to acquire Mawpalai afforestation area lying adjacent to NH-40 between Umsaw Khwan and Lad Sumer villages, Ri-Bhoi district at an estimated cost of Rs 15.09 crore and sought approval of the Planning and Finance Department.
The Planning Department, in the interest of ecology and environment and to convert the acquired land into State Reserved Forest agreed to the proposal and allocated Rs 10 crore during 2009-10.
It further suggested the procedures stating that the acquisition of afforested land should be done through negotiation with the Village Community or Village Dorbar on priority basis.
In the negotiated settlement, it was mentioned that 30 per cent solatium and 12 per cent interest should not be included in the estimate.
The Forest & Environment department should enter into a legally binding agreement with the community/village Durbar having legal identity or socially or traditionally accepted identity to the effect that the properly defined afforested land shall be acquired by the Government and the signed agreement be duly registered”, the deal said
Accordingly, the Government in July 2009 constituted an ‘Inter-Departmental Negotiating Committee’ to negotiate the cost of land excluding the 30 per cent ( solatium and 12 per cent interest.
After taking into account the estimate of Rs 11.63 crore as submitted by the Deputy Commissioner, Ri Bhoi district and the offer of Rs 10 crore of the Umsaw Khwan Village Durbar for transfer of ownership of the Mawpalai Afforestation area, the Negotiating Committee agreed in February 2010 to the compensation amount of Rs 10 crore which was endorsed in March 2010 by the Planning and Finance departments.Based on this, the Forest and Environment department in March 2010 sanctioned Rs 10 crore and placed the funds in October 2010 at the disposal of DC, Ri Bhoi for necessary action. Subsequently, the Revenue Department in March 2011 issued notification under Section 428 of the Land Acquisition Act (LA Act), 1894 and also invoked the urgency clause 1729 of the LA Act for speedy acquisition proceedings. “Accordingly, Rs 8 crore was released in June 2011 in favour of S.W. Rymbai who accepted the payment as land owner and a ‘Certificate of Taking Over Possession of the Land’ was signed after executing an ‘Indemnity Bond’ in favour of State Government”, the report said
However, the land was not handed over by the Village Dorbar to the Forest and Environment department till date.
Inquiry reveals anomaly
In the meantime, the Forest and Environment department, on an enquiry in May 2012 carried out by the DC, Ri Bhoi had ascertained in October 2012 that the Mawpalai plantation had been created and maintained by the Soil and Water Conservation department in different years from 1959-60 to 1972-73 and the land was under their possession since 1953. According to CAG, the land acquisition proceedings were considered flawed and the DC, Ri Bhoi was asked to recover Rs 8 crore with interest and annul the land acquisition proceedings.
In this regard, a writ petition was filed in 2012 against the State Government by the Village Dorbar in the High Court of Meghalaya.
The Government also filed a case in November 2012 with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for investigation in connection with fraudulent payment of Government money and the investigation was still in progress (July 2015). The High Court of Meghalaya, while disposing the writ petition in February 2014 observed that since public money was involved, the Government must get a chance to redress the grievances and therefore directed the Government to file a recovery suit before the appropriate Court. Accordingly, a money suit for recovery of Rs 8 crore was filed in June 2014 in the Court of Assistant District & Sessions Judge at Nongpoh.
The CAG said that as maintained by the villagers of Umsaw Khwan, the afforestation at Mawpalai was taken up by the Government of Assam under a scheme introduced in early fifties known as Jhum Control Scheme. Consequent to creation of the State of Meghalaya, the Mawpalai Afforestation Plantation was passed over to the Soil & Conservation department.
However, the villagers, on the basis of patta issued by the Syiem of Raid Mawbuh and the Syiem of Mylliem had requested in the year 1994 for transfer of the Mawpalai Afforestation area to them. The request of the villagers was examined by a team of State Government officials and it was reported that there was no evidence to support the claim of the villagers.
On this basis, the State Cabinet in the year 1995 had also decided that Forest land should not be parted with and the claim of the villagers should be rejected and Government may continue to exert control over it.
However, based on the fresh claims again made by the villagers in June 2009, the Forest and Enviroment department without relying upon the earlier decision of the Meghalaya government that the forest land should not be parted with as it was under Government control, had acquired the land it already possessed at a negotiated cost of Rs 10 crore. The CAG pointed out that “it is evident that the Government notification dated 02-03-2001 issued under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1994 was flawed and 80 per cent compensation amounting to Rs 8 crore was fraudulently released to one of the village representatives”.
The CAG also said that although the patta issued by the Syiem of Mylliem in 1994 clearly indicated that there should not be any sale or registration of the village forest to other authorities coupled with the state cabinet rejecting the request of the villagers for transfer of forest land, the Forest and Environment department fraudulently accepted the ownership claim of the villagers.
Though the Negotiating Committee in December 2009 had decided to examine the details of records of Mawpalai afforestation area available with Soil and Water Conservation department, it failed to verify the legal ownership and title of the forest land and became a party to fraudulent land acquisition at a negotiated cost of Rs 10 crore, the CAG said. This was later admitted in October 2012 by the then Principal Secretary, Forest an Environment department, that the plantations developed by the Government department over an area of 178 ha were 40-52 years old and the entire land containing these plantations was still in the possession of Soil and Water Conservation department. “This was further substantiated by the fact that basing on this premise, the Government filed a case with the CID, Shillong for investigation in connection with fraudulent payment of Government money and subsequently a money suit was also filed in the court of law”, the report added