Dr EAS Sarma, former secretary GOI, today urged the state government to get back the one-acre land originally allotted to the Zilla Grandhala Samstha by the government in its favour without any further delay to construct a full-fledged public library at the site.
Writing a letter to B Rajsekhar, Principal Secretary, School Education Dept, Andhra Pradesh, Dr Sarma said that it was incumbent upon the government to cancel the transfer of the land to a private company done by the previous government.
Stating that the transfer of the land was illegal Dr Sarma said the government’s decision to this extent had violated the BSO provisions as well.
Following is the text of the Sarma’s letter
The land in question was government land allotted by the State govt to Visakhapatnam Zilla Grandhalaya with the specific objective of providing access to the public the facilities of a well-equipped library at a convenient location in the city.
It was a benign decision taken in the public interest. The question of making available such valuable public land to a private company for a commercial purpose should not have arisen at all in the first instance. It was by deceit that an earlier government had allowed the land to be allotted to a private company for profiteering at the cost of the public. An impartial enquiry into the manner in which the private company was allowed to appropriate the land for a pittance, that too, in violation of the BSO provisions, will reveal the illegal benefits that would have accrued to the private company as a result of such an imprudent decision taken and the extent of malafides committed by those responsible for it.
As explained in my previous letters and as brought out by the Telugu book, “కంచే చేను మేస్తే”, even after managing to execute such a patently malafide one-sided agreement, the beneficiary company’s greed for additional benefits resulted in the company seeking unauthorised changes in the agreement and consequently violating the time schedules stipulated in it. Any sensible govt would have rejected the company’s demands and revoked the agreement forthwith along with a deterrent penalty imposed on it. However, the promoter of the company being an influential political leader, the company was allowed to go scot-free at that time. Only after the public demanded strict action against the company that the government finally decided to revoke the agreement on 26-5-2014 and encash the bank guarantee. After a further public struggle for another five years, the Visakhapatnam Zilla Grandhalaya finally got possession of the premises on 8-7-2019.
Apparently, the promoter of the private company had no qualms about plundering the public property and, unmindful of the public outcry, he started raising new, unreasonable claims against the government. A committee appointed by the govt examined the matter thoroughly and came to the conclusion that it was the company that should be held liable to pay compensation to the govt and not vice versa.
After all this, I find that the Dept of School Education has issued Memo No. 7843/Services I(2)/2012 dated 11-8-2020 agreeing to refer the matter to an arbitrator to be appointed by the State govt. While I am not aware of the circumstances under which such a decision has been taken more than five years after the termination of the lease agreement, I have the following concerns that the State govt should address in order to safeguard the public interest.
The manner in which the lease agreement was executed by the government on 15-2-2010, in the first instance, involved malafides that cannot be brushed aside. If such malafides are established, one can come to the inevitable conclusion that such a lease agreement obtained by the private company in an unlawful, deceitful manner was ab initio void and all consequential claims arising from it would have no legal basis. The government should institute an investigation into this urgently so that the necessity of referring the matter for arbitration could be revisited.
The lease agreement was terminated by the govt on 25-9-2014 on valid grounds. An official committee appointed by the government recommended that a heavy penalty be imposed on the company, instead of allowing the company to prefer counterclaims against the government. The government ought to have formally accepted the committee’s suggestions and issued a notice to the company to pay the penalty. If this has not been done yet, the govt will be weakening its case further.
Under the arbitration law, it is difficult to contest an arbitration order once pronounced, unless one can demonstrate compelling evidence to show gaping holes in the order or fraud. Therefore, if at all the govt chooses finally to refer the matter to an arbitrator despite what all I have stated above, the choice of the arbitrator will assume a great deal of importance. A person whose credentials are unimpeachable and who is totally impervious to extraneous influence should be appointed, as otherwise, it is likely to go against the public interest.
The whole matter concerning this land and the malafides involved in the govt originally signing the lease deed in 2010 has become a subject of intense public agitation in the city and its surroundings. Public land that legitimately belonged to the Zilla Grandhalaya was snatched away from it and doled out to a private company through a dubious agreement and the library forced to move into an unsafe building surrounded by heavy traffic, adjacent to a cinema hall and congested shopping centres. In view of this, every move of the government will be subject to intense public scrutiny. Those dealing with this subject in the government should be conscious of this and take such measures that fully safeguard the public interest.