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How 37 acres of grazing land in Washim landed Maharashtra minister Abdul Sattar in a fix

Opposition is gunning for Sattar’s resignation citing HC order that he allegedly sanctioned illegal regularisation of public utility land in favour of individual against SC order.

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Mumbai: Armed with bells, manjeeras (clash cymbals) and a host of other musical instruments, the opposition in Maharashtra staged a blaring demonstration on the stairs of the Vidhan Bhavan in Nagpur Tuesday, demanding the resignation of state minister Abdul Sattar.

The MLA from Aurangabad’s Sillod, Sattar is the second minister from the faction of the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to run afoul of the opposition over alleged irregularities in land allotment. Earlier this month, the opposition was gunning for Shinde’s resignation citing the Bombay High Court’s observation concerning him in the NIT plots case.

Agriculture minister Sattar landed under the scanner after an order by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay HC found “prima facie worth” in claims that he allegedly sanctioned illegal regularisation of 37 acres of grazing (gairan) land despite a 2011 Supreme Court order prohibiting such actions. 

The land in question is said to be valued at Rs 150 crore and the regularisation is said to have taken place when Sattar was a junior minister in the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

Citing the HC order, the opposition staged a unique demonstration Tuesday on the stairs of the Vidhan Bhavan, singing folk songs to accuse Shinde and Sattar of corruption. The demonstration was led by Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Ambadas Danve, who is also Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Maharashtra Legislative Council.

Taking a cue from what his cabinet colleague Deepak Kesarkar told the media, Sattar assured reporters that he would address the allegations levelled against him on the floor of the House, which he is yet to do.

The Bombay HC, while ordering an interim stay on the allotment Thursday, had directed Sattar and the state revenue department to file their replies by 11 January. Asking how “public utility land/gairan land was allowed to be usurped by private individuals”, the bench observed that the PIL brought to its notice “something, which has the potential of shaking the public confidence in the system of governance of the State”.

The order came barely a week after the bench pulled up CM Shinde for allegedly allotting over 4.5 acres of land in Nagpur reserved for slum dwellers to 16 private individuals at a ‘throwaway’ price during his tenure as urban development minister in the previous MVA government, despite the matter being sub-judice.

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What is the case against Sattar

On 22 December, a division bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Mahendra Chandwani passed an order on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by Shyam Nivrutti Deole and lawyer Santosh Dattarya Pophale, saying it found “prima facie worth” in allegations against Sattar.

The petitioners claim that a decision by Sattar, then Minister of State (MoS) for Revenue, on 17 June — days before the fall of the MVA government — resulted in unlawful regularisation of public utility land measuring 37 acres and 19 gunthas (40 gunthas make one acre) in favour of a private individual in Vidarbha’s Washim district. 

The regularisation, said the PIL, was sanctioned after said person’s claim was “outrightly rejected by the Civil appellate court”. Counsel for the petitioner went further to cite the 2011 SC judgement in the Jagpal Singh vs State of Punjab case, where the top court ruled that no public utility land/gairan land can be regularised and allotted to an individual.

On its part, the Maharashtra government had in July 2011 issued a government resolution (GR) to acknowledge the SC verdict that read: “There is a complete prohibition on the transfer of gairan lands to private individuals or bodies although such transfer has been permitted in favour of the central government or departments of state government for purpose of implementing government schemes or for public utility.”

The HC in its order issued Thursday said it prima facie found that the “impugned order has been passed by not considering in any manner the observations of the Additional District Judge.”

In addition, the bench said Sattar failed to take into account the precedent laid down by the SC in 2011 or the state government’s GR in this regard, besides being aware of the civil court’s decree since the Washim district collector had brought the dismissal of the private person’s suit to his notice.

The court also observed that the Washim district collector, having realised the illegality of the order, had written to the state chief secretary on 5 July informing him that the decision would amount to contempt of court.

“We find that the issue raised in this petition, which puts a question mark over the manner in which the public utility land/gairan land is allowed to be usurped by private individuals, requires consideration by this Court,” read the order.

The HC ordered an interim stay on the operation of Sattar’s decision till 11 January and directed the petitioners to deposit Rs 50,000 within three weeks as a precondition to hear the PIL and to show their bona fides.

Sattar — no stranger to controversies

Agriculture minister in the Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government, Sattar is no stranger to political controversies. 

In November, he was reportedly asked by CM Shinde to issue a public apology for using ‘abusive language’ against Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule. Sattar, while maintaining that he did not abuse Sule, later said he was “truly sorry” if his words hurt any woman.

Earlier, reports hinted that in the months following Shinde’s swearing-in, Sattar had allegedly misbehaved with a senior staffer in the chief minister’s office over a delay in not clearing a file.

Sattar’s name also appeared in connection with the Maharashtra Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) scam after a report by The Indian Express revealed that the names of his daughters were found in the list of 293 candidates who did not change their marks, but “managed to get fake TET qualification certificates”.

Referring to the allegations against Sattar, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) MLA Aaditya Thackeray told reporters outside the Vidhan Bhavan Tuesday, “We have all the documents and evidence to prove his misdeeds, be it the TET scam or objectionable remarks against NCP MP Supriya Sule.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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