The Punjab government has told the Punjab and Haryana high court that a decision has been taken to issue a chargesheet to Gurjinder Singh Benipal, former land acquisition officer (LAO)-cum-district revenue officer (DRO), Mohali, in connection with the ₹263-crore increase in the land acquisition cost in respect of the 30-km stretch of the Greenfield alignment project, coming up between Mehmadpur, Ambala, and IT City, Mohali.
The information in this regard was given by the state’s counsel during the resumed hearing of a plea by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which had approached the high court seeking probe into the matter.
The court, while posting the matter for further hearing on July 12, asked the state’s counsel to clarify as to when the draft awards were sent to NHAI, which is subject matter of inquiry now. The state has also been told to clarify what procedure was adopted during the acquisition process.
As per NHAI’s allegations, Benipal, in May-July 2021, had assessed the land acquisition cost for the 30-km stretch at ₹922 crore, which was objected to by the NHAI, as higher than the market rates, which it had estimated at ₹700 crore.
However, in a subsequent evaluation, dated September 30, 2021, the compensation was further increased to ₹1,185 crore.
NHAI submitted that Benipal was transferred to Moga on October 28, 2021, and the very next day, on October 29, 2021, NHAI got an e-mail that land acquisition cost had been assessed at ₹1,185 crore by Benipal as DRO. As per NHAI’s claim, the award was assessed antedate.
To buttress its claims, NHAI argued that in a meeting with the Punjab chief secretary, Mohali deputy commissioner and the new DRO on October 29, 2021, it was informed that the award will be finalised by November 15, 2021.
But on the same date, NHAI got an e-mail about the ₹1,185-crore award passed by Benipal. In its April 28 plea, NHAI had claimed that it had demanded a probe into the episode, but the state government did not respond.
The notification for the acquisition of land for the 30-km stretch between Ambala and Mohali was issued in December 2020. The six-lane project is being constructed under the central government’s Bharatmala Pariyojna. The road will further connect to the 32-km stretch till Kurali, which is coming up at a cost of ₹700 crore. Once complete, the corridor will help ease traffic in Chandigarh and Zirakpur by serving as an alternative route for those heading from Delhi towards Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.