Shimla, Sep 14 (IANS) "Himachal on Sale" is the slogan on which the ruling BJP and the opposition hope to outsmart each other at the coming assembly polls. Both are accusing each other of selling land to outsiders by relaxing and violating land norms.
The latest attack was launched by the BJP. It dared state Congress chief and five-time former chief minister Virbhadra Singh to come face-to-face on the issue with Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
"I invite Virbhadra Singh for a public debate on land violations with the chief minister. He is free to choose the place and time so that the common man could know during whose tenure more violations were recorded," state BJP president Satpal Satti told reporters here Wednesday.
Questioning Virbhadra Singh at a time when he's spearheading the party's campaign ahead of the polls as to how his brother-in-law Arun Sen retained excess land by violating the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling on Land Holding Act of 1972, Satti said: "A major chunk of the land, meant to be surrendered, had been sold off by Sen to earn crores of rupees."
"Even there are scores of other instances like that of Amar Nath Aggarwal Builders, Himalayan Fertilisers, Nicholas Piramal and A.B.N. Indian Biotech Private Ltd where the norms were violated by the previous Congress government," he said.
Satti said the Congress, during its 2003-2007 rule, gave permission in 2,398 cases to outsiders to buy land in the state as compared to 1,497 cases by the BJP government till March 31 this year.
Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Land Tenancy and Land Reforms Act of 1972 allows only permanent residents of the state to buy land. Others who want to purchase land for non-agricultural purposes have to seek permission from the government.
The BJP government, on the other hand, is not only on the target of the Congress but also from the rebel elements within the party on corruption, illegal property transactions and promoting realtors.
The Congress has even questioned the permission granted to 15 private universities for setting up huge campuses in the state.
"The entire Himachal Pradesh is up for sale," Virbhadra Singh, who himself is facing corruption charges, is saying at public rallies.
"All illegal property deals being executed by the BJP government would be probed if the Congress comes to power," Virbhadra Singh told IANS.
The state Congress last month gave a corruption "chargesheet" to President Pranab Mukherjee against the state government and demanded an inquiry against it.
In the "chargesheet", the Congress accused Dhumal of extending favours to his son Anurag Thakur, a BJP MP, and the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), which is controlled by him.
It alleged that the government has provided several plots of land to the HPCA, a private commercial body, in various parts of the state.
Even the BJP government is on the target of its rebels, who in February launched a new political outfit - Himachal Lokhit Party.
At the time of floating the party, four-time former MP Maheshwar Singh had alleged that top party functionaries, including Dhumal and his MP son, are neck deep in corruption.
Though elections to the 68-member assembly are due in December, they are likely to be held in November.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)