Released on condition of appearing again on Monday; Supporters stage sit-in, allege BJP’s conspiracy to debar Singh from contesting polls
Former Minister and Chairman Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party (DSSP) Chaudhary Lal Singh was questioned by Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Saturday for more than 12 hours as part of its investigations into a case of alleged irregularities in the purchase of land by an educational trust in Kathua.
As per reports, Chaudhary Lal Singh reached the office of ED, in Jammu’s Narwal area around 9.30 am, after he was summoned in connection with a land purchase case by R B educational trust owned by his wife and former MLA Kanta Aandotra.
Sources said that Singh was grilled by the officials of ED throughout the day amid massive protests in his support outside the complex. After questioning, he was released late evening and asked to appear again on Monday.
Speaking after release, as per the news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), the former minister claimed that he has been victim of political witch-hunt and dragged into the “unwanted cases under pressure of political bosses.”
Meanwhile, throughout the day supporters of Singh staged demonstrations outside the office of ED. As the news spread, supporters of Lal Singh started assembling outside the office complex and raised slogans against BJP and, particularly against Union Minister Jitendera Singh, who is also a member of parliament from Udhampur constituency.
Talking to the media, Lal Singh’s supporters said that he has been targeted by Dr Jitendra Singh. “Jitendra Singh knows that only Lal Singh is able to stop him from becoming MP again and now elections are near, Dr Singh using every sort to debar him from constructing upcoming polls,” a supporter alleged.
Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate on October 17 raided eight places, including the residential premises of Choudhary Lal Singh, as part of its investigations into a case of alleged irregularities in the purchase of land by an educational trust in Kathua. Singh’s wife Kanta Andotra is the chairperson of the R B Educational Trust.
Sources said the searches were conducted in Jammu, Kathua, and neighbouring Punjab’s Pathankot district. These were part of the probe into the allegations of money laundering against the educational trust, they said, adding the searches were in progress. Significantly, the searches came three years after the Central Bureau of Investigation registered an FIR against the R B Education Trust for occupying a huge tract of land over and above the ceiling of standard 100 kanal (12.5 acre) fixed by the Jammu and Kashmir Government under provisions of the J&K Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976.
Nearly half a dozen retired and serving revenue officials, who had allegedly helped the Trust run by the former minister’s wife get excess land in violation of the Agrarian Reforms Act, were also booked by the CBI. They included then Kathua deputy commissioner Ajay Singh Jamwal (now retired), then tehsildar Marheen, Avtar Singh, naib tehsildar Dheeraj Kumar, Girdwar Ram Pal, and patwari Sudesh Kumar. The CBI had earlier conducted searches on the premises of the accused leading to the recovery of documents relating to their moveable and immoveable property etc.
The CBI FIR has followed a preliminary enquiry by the investigating agency in June 2020 following “source information” regarding the “encroachment of huge tract public/government/forest land in Kathua district by unscrupulous elements in violation of J&K Agrarian Reforms Act 1976 and in connivance with revenue and forest officials”, sources said. The CBI filed a chargesheet in the case in October 2021, alleging the involvement of accused revenue officials in criminal conspiracy with the R B Educational Trust through Kanta Andotra to allow it to retain land beyond the permissible ceiling of standard 100 kanal (12.5 acre).
For this, the then tehsildar and other accused in connivance with the Trust through its chairperson Kanta Andotra wrongly measured 316 kanal and 17 marla (39.52 acre) of land in question by showing it as 152 kanal and 1 marla as per the revenue records and 110.13 kanal as per spot verification, the agency alleged.
To enable the R B Educational Trust to retain land beyond 100 kanals, the revenue officials allegedly showed 74.02 kanals (9.25 acres) as orchard and another 32 kanal (4 acres) was “gha charai” (grazing land), which did not come under the ceiling fixed under Agrarian Reforms Act.
However, while there was no revenue entry concerning the existence of an orchard, the grazing land being common land could not be purchased or sold by an individual, sources added.
Choudhary Lal Singh was elected MLA on BJP mandate from Basohli in the 2014 elections and was inducted as a cabinet minister into the PDP-BJP coalition government.
However, he along with another party minister Chander Prakash Ganga had to resign from the then Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition cabinet in the wake of a controversy over their public support to the demand of CBI inquiry by the family members and relatives of those accused of gang-raping and murdering an eight-year-Bakarwal girl in 2018.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Choudhary Lal Singh contested the elections as the nominee of the newly floated Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan in Udhampur-Kathua parliamentary constituency and lost the security deposit—(KNO)