Court asks Bihar government how it gave land to filmmaker

May 23, 2008 NR

Patna, May 23 (IANS) On what basis does the Bihar government allot plots, the Patna High Court wanted to know here while hearing a petition against a series of allotments for filmmaker Prakash Jha.

A division bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha and Justice C.K. Prasad asked the state owned Bihar Industrial Area Land Development Authority (BIADA) to file a comprehensive affidavit detailing the norms/guidelines that were applied for allotment of land by the authority.

The court passed the order after hearing a public interest petition (PIL) filed by senior Congress leader Premchand Mishra, said an official of the court.

Last December, the Supreme Court had set aside a Patna High Court judgement cancelling the allotment of land to Jha in Bihar. The Supreme Court then asked the Patna High Court to adjudicate the matter afresh and reach a decision on the legality of the land allotment within four months.

Jha was allotted a prime piece of land in Patna and other places at very cheap rates to set up multiplexes, ultra-modern medical colleges and hospitals.

Mishra told IANS that Jha was allotted land in Patna, Hajipur, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Buxar and Aurangabad. "About 12 acres of land were allotted to Jha by the state government at throwaway prices," he claimed.

He said that he mainly challenged the allotment of costly land of BIADA in Patna to Jha in his PIL. The government allotted land to Jha without tender and at a rate seven times lower than the market rate, he said.

On Dec 19, 2006, the high court scrapped the allotment saying proper protocols were not followed. It however had Jha permission to re-apply for the plots as long as he backed his business plans with supporting documents.

A high court bench of Justice Aftab Alam, who is now a Supreme Court judge, and Justice Rekha Kumari, in its judgement had said that standard protocol had been ignored as Jha failed to provide needed documents with his application.

"It does not appear the allotment of land to Jha was motivated by some political reasons. This is a clear case of government officials not doing their job in a diligent and professional manner and therefore, Jha is free to get back his deposit or re-apply for the land with proper documents, if he desires to," the court had ruled in response to Mishra's plea.

Mishra had alleged that the Bihar government allotted lands in prime areas to Jha at cheap prices because of the filmmaker's close personal relationship with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Jha, who hails from a village near Bettiah, campaigned for Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U) during the 2005 assembly polls.

The filmmaker was also seen campaigning with Nitish Kumar two days ago for the parliamentary by-election from Nalanda, the home district of the chief minister.

State opposition leader Rabri Devi had earlier demanded a probe into the allotment by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

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