Despite court order, ex-J&K Dy CM moves to new house near Army ammunition depot
Former Deputy Chief Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and BJP leader, Nirmal Singh, and his family moved into their newly constructed bungalow at Ban village, near the Army’s ammunition sub-depot (ASD) on July 23, despite earlier court orders in May 2018 directing authorities to ensure “strict implementation” of a 2015 government notification barring general public from construction within 1,000 yards of defence works.
The May 7, 2018, High Court order was in response to a writ petition filed by the Union government challenging the construction of a palatial bungalow in the site stating it was just 580 yards from the perimeter boundary wall of the ASD in Nagrota. The petition was filed after civil and police officials did not stop construction activity being carried out by Mamta Singh, then Speaker of J&K Assembly, and wife of Nirmal Singh, despite written requests from top Army officials at Nagrota-based 16 Corps Headquarters.
The Union government approached the High Court twice — on May 15, 2018, and then on December 20, 2018 — seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the then state government officials for wilfully not implementing the court’s May 7 order. The court issued notice to the then Divisional Commissioner Jammu, Hemant Sharma, Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, Kumar Rajeev Ranjan, and then SSP Jammu, Vivek Gupta, asking them to file a compliance report.
Even as the writ petition and the contempt petitions were pending disposal in the High Court, Mamta Singh posted a picture of hers along with her grandson at the newly-constructed house on July 25 on Facebook. “23 July 2020 apney ghar mein parvesh kiya, 24 ki khushi ke pal. Jeevan ka sabse sukhad khshan (Moved into our house on July 23, moments of joy on July 24, life’s happiest day),” her post read.
When contacted, Nirmal Singh told The Indian Express, “The case is sub judice and the Hon’ble High Court is seized with the matter. So, it shall not be appropriate for me to comment on the case. It shall be better to wait for the decision of the court.”
A senior officer in the J&K Union Territory administration, who wished not to be named, said he was not aware of the present status of the construction work. The structure appeared to have already been built before the court ordered a status quo in the matter, he said. “The matter is between the army and the owner of the house and I cannot say anything much in the matter,” the officer said.
A senior Army officer, who also did not wish to be identified, said the writ petition and the contempt petition were pending disposal before the court and they have full faith in the judiciary.
The house was built on a 2,000-square metre plot right next to the Army’s ammunition sub depot in Nagrota. The plot is part of land measuring 12 acres purchased by some senior BJP leaders through a company Himgiri Infrastructure Development Limited, of which Mamta Singh was a shareholder.
The company had taken a term loan of Rs 18.50 crore along with a cash credit facility of Rs 56.83 lakh from Jammu and Kashmir Bank in 2012 to set up a power project in Himachal’s Chamba district. The Indian Express had reported on May 14, 2018, that the account was declared a non-performing asset in December 2017.
A month after construction started in the plot in October 2017, the Army informed and requested the then Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, through a letter on November 2, 2017, to order the concerned police authority and civil administration stop it since the activity was in violation of the Works of Defence Act, 1903. Two more letters followed in November, but the administration did not take any action.
Nirmal Singh was then the Deputy Chief Minister of the Jammu and Kashmir state. He remained in office till April 30, 2018.
Besides writing to the civil administration, the Army also lodged a written complaint with SHO Nagrota Police Station on November 27, 2017, and also approached the SSP Jammu on December 12 for registration of a First Information Report.
With no response to the Army’s requests, Corps Commander 16 Corps Lt General Sanajeet Singh wrote on March 19, 2018, directly to Nirmal Singh – he was Deputy Chief Minister then, stating the construction was illegal and had “implications on the security of a major ammunition storage facility as well as safety of all personnel living in close vicinity of the ammunition depot’’. With no response, the Army finally filed a petition before the High Court in May 2018.