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Lawyer steps back in high-profile Priyanka Vadra ‘land purchase case’, RTI activist requests HC to appoint Amicus Curiae

SHIMLA- Fabrications of laws and governmental mechanism to favor high-profile VVIPs and their relatives, as depicted in Bollywood films, aren’t altogether fictitious after all. The inspiration comes from routine socio-economic realities prevailing in India. In a similar case, the justice seems to be at stake in controversial Priyanka Vadra Land Purchase deal as the Right to Information Activist (RTI) Dev Ashish Bhattacharya, at a critical stage of arguments, is deserted by his lawyer who was earlier advocating him in High Court of Himachal Pradesh.

The lawyer had requested to not mention the reason why he can’t fight this case any further. The lawyers to which the activist approached were reluctant in taking up the case  against the privileged VVIP party – daughter of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and wife of Robert Vadra.  Serious controversies relating to property deals surround Mr. Vadra as well.

Video: All About Priyanka Vadra ‘Shimla Land Purchase Case (in Chronological Order)

Correction: Priyanka had purchased three-and-half Bigha of land, not 4.45

Moreover, the court and the government appear to be in a hurry to dispose off the case as soon as possible. The HC had recently warned the activist that if he could not produce a counsel in the hearing scheduled for 22 December, 2016, the court will pass its judgment ex-parity.

Now, the RTI Activist, in a letter to the Chief Justice of HP High Court, has requested to appoint a senior and learned advocated as Amicus Curiae so that the arguments could be brought to a justified conclusion.

Since my learned counsels have left due to personal reasons and all other counsels whom I know have refused to stand for this case due to the reasons which cannot be made open for want of decency, therefore, you good self is requested to appoint a senior and seasoned Sr. Advocate as Amicus Curiae to help the court in adjudicating the issue of law which arose out of this case

, requested the activist in letter to the Chief Justice.

The activist further pleaded that the case involves a vital point of Public Interest. There are questions that must be answered.  Whether the file- notings and details relating to the approval granted to purchase land under section 118 of H.P. Land And Tenancy Act 1972 to any party may be disclosed or not under RTI Act 2005? 
This case also involves a point of law that must be adjudicated: whether the life of any SPG protectee may be threatened if the file notings and details of the processes of public activity involving the approval granted to purchase of land in Himachal Pradesh by invoking Section 118 are released?

If Information about SPG Protectees Can Be Released in Delhi, Then Why Not In Himachal?

Another logical argument that the activist raised is: why details in similar case involving SPG protectees can be obtained in another state but denied in Himachal?

If information is released in public domain under the provision of the RTI Act to one person, then can the same information be denied to another person?

The activist had pleaded in the court that similar nature of the information pertaining to the allotment of houses to the SPG protectees in Delhi was released under the RTI Act.

Then why the same nature of information is denied in Priyanka Vadra case through RTI in Himachal Pradesh?

,

asks the activist.

Hence, he added, the issue is of great Public interest and needs to be argued in the court by a senior and seasoned counsel. The justice is at stake and it would be a constitutional crisis if the case is left without proper adjudication.

I am sure that your goodself shall not allow this constitution crisis to continue any further which rendered me defenseless against the battery of Lawyers because the counsels at Shimla are showing their reluctance to take up my case

, said the activist in the letter.

On the basis of these facts, Mr. Bhattacharya has requested the court to appoint a Sr. Advocate as Amicus Curiae to place the arguments on his behalf.

Reportedly, in 2007, Priyanka had bought three-and-half Bigha land in Charabra in capital Shimla near Presidential retreat for Rs. 47 lakh. The State Government had accepted that some provisions were relaxed to allow Vadra to buy land in Himachal because under Section 118 of Land and Tenancy Act 1972, no person other than a resident of Himachal can buy land in the State except for agricultural purpose.

According to a report published in the Statesman, Mr Virbhadra Singh said that there is no irregularity in giving permission to Mrs Vadra to buy property near Shimla. He said the government “has the power to give such permission and we had followed the due procedure”.

According to reports, in 2009, the then State govt had also admitted that it was a difficult task to permit Priyanka Vadra (a non-Himachali and non-agriculturist) to allow purchase of land in Himachal as Section 118 doesn’t allow it. The report also mention that administration introduced some flexibility to accomplish it.

Also, the report further said, the then revenue minister, Sat Mahajan, had reportedly driven to Delhi to hand over the papers personally to Mrs Vadra.

The construction of her luxury cottage had begun about 8 years ago during which the cottage design went through several changes including demolition multiple times. A controversy about alleged felling of trees around the plot for construction of Priaynka Vadra’s “dream cottage” arose as well. Only a couple of BJP leaders registered their protest regarding this deal.  Former Chief Minister of Himachal, Shanta Kumar was one of them. 

In 2014, the RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya filed an application under RTI Action 2005 seeking release of details of this land-purchase deal. Apparently, there is a big question as to what relaxations were given in provisions to enable Mrs. Vadra to purchase land and built a cottage near Presidential retreat in Charabra, Shimla.

However, the activist was denied information by the district administration saying the family is an SPG protectee and revealing details of her property may threaten her safety.

It is noticeable that the location of purchased land was covered by mainstream media and pictures of the under-construction cottage were also published in dailies.

The activist approached the State Information Commissioner with his first appeal. The SIC found his arguments valid and directed the district administration to release information requested in the RTI within 10 days.

However, the matter was taken to the High Court and Priyanka also requested the state government to keep her details concealed, not to be released in public domain. Thus, the support extended by the state government including previous BJP government is comprehensible. 

Considering the above mentioned details and attitude of the government, it is a matter of worry that constitutional provisions are not equally followed indiscriminately, which is a blasphemy in terms of the guidelines given in Indian constitution. In current system, influential families have privileges that constitution doesn’t provide for.

Moreover, why the Vadra family is hesitating in releasing details of the deal if everything was done in accordance with provisions? The decision of the court will mean more than just a judgment. It is to be seen whether Law is equal for all or not. 

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