Shimla: In high-proflie Priyanka Vadra ‘land purchase deal’ case, as a relief to the RTI Activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh has appointed senior advocate, R.K. Bawa as his counsel (amicus curiae) along with an assistant, Jevan. The activist was abandoned by his previous counsel in 2016 for reasons unknown. Thereafter, the activist had pleaded the court to appoint a counsel so that the case could be brought to logical conclusion.
The activist had filed an RTI application seeking the details of land purchased by Priyanka Vadra, daughter of All India Congress President Sonia Gandhi and wife of Robert Vadra, in Charabra, about 13 km from capital city Shimla. The sought information included relaxation given to Priyanka under Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Land and Tenancy Act 1972. This particular section prohibits sale of land to people who are not residents of Himachal. There is only one exception to this rule via which it allows the sale to outsider for purely agricultural purpose. However, Priyanka built a lavish Bungalow at the purchased land. Moreover, the land in proximity to the Presidential retreat.
The activist had filed the RTI in 2014, but was denied information by the district administration of Shimla. The denial of release of information by administration was challenged by the activist in his first appeal to the Chief Information Commissioner of Himachal Pradesh. The Commissioner found the denial unlawful and ordered the district administration to provide the sought information to the applicant under RTI Act, 2005 within 10 days. However, Priyanka managed to obtain a stay on the order and since then the case remains in the court.
Interestingly, around September in 2016, the activist’s counsel expressed his inability to represent the activist in court. He told the activist that his reasons are highly personal. Thereafter, no advocate from Himachal Pradesh came ahead to take the case. The court had directed the activist to produce a counsel or otherwise the case will be concluded in next hearing.
Moreover, the RTI activist was not kept informed even regarding the appointment of the counsel and he had to file an RTI to obtain the information. Earlier, the Public Relation Officer of HP High Court, who was alleged of leaking court order prior to the official date, was also given clean chit without any proper inquiry, alleges the activist.
It is worth noting that the senior counsel Bawa has served as the General Attorney during the regime of former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 2017.