In Mizoram, Congress Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla is battling accusations of withholding the details of a property owned by him. The Congress’s primary opposition in the state, the Mizo National Front, has asked for his resignation, claiming that the chief minister “lied under oath”, deliberately concealing his assets when filing his affidavit before the 2013 Assembly elections.
The allegations against Lalthanhawla first surfaced on November 10 when social media activist and Central government employee Hriata Chhangte claimed that he owned a plot of land in Kolkata. The allegation was that he had purchased it before the 2013 elections, but failed to declare it. Chhangte furnished copies of land records to back his claim.
The accusation was almost immediately picked up by the Zoram Nationalist Party, an offshoot of the Mizo National Front. At a press conference on November 11, the party contended that the chief minister ought to resign as he violated the law of the land by failing to include details about all his assets in his sworn affidavit to the Election Commission.
Soon, the calls for resignation got louder. On November 14, leaders of the youth wing of the Mizo National Front reportedly intercepted the chief minister’s convoy to prevent him from attending the first day of the Mizoram Assembly’s winter session. This was followed by a press conference held the next day by senior leaders of Mizo National Front. Once again, they sought the chief minister’s resignation.
The Congress’s defence
The Congress has denied any wrongdoing on the chief minister’s part. Party spokesperson David Thangliana said it was a “baseless accusation with the sole intention of maligning CM Lal Thanhawla in view of the coming state assembly elections”. Mizoram is expected to go to polls in the second half of 2018.
The party has not, however, contested the authenticity of the documents. Thangliana said the plot was allotted to the chief minister under the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation chairman’s quota. He insisted that the chief minister did not apply for the plot. While the market value of the land was over Rs 2 crore, Lal Thanhawla paid around Rs 17 lakh, said the spokesperson.
Thangliana stated that the reason the property did not find mention in Thanhawla’s affidavit was because he did not have legal ownership of the land when it was filed. “The CM was not given title of the land, nor was it recorded by the proper authorities in 2013, the year of Mizoram assembly elections,” Thangliana said. “The land title was recorded only on July 25, 2014, so there is no question of him mentioning in his election affidavit that he has a land holding in New Town, Kolkata.”
The “deed of conveyance”, which is being cited as proof of Lal Thanhawla’s ownership of the land at the time of filing his affidavit, was signed on August 30, 2013. The assembly elections were held in November that year. Thangliana, however, claimed that the deed of conveyance was not proof of ownership. “The mutation took place only the next year,” he said. “So, he had legal ownership only after that.”
A contentious deed
The Mizo National Front has dismissed the explanation. Ruata, party secretary and chairman of the legal board, argued that the chief minister assumed ownership of the property in August 2013 with the signing of the deed of conveyance. “A dead of conveyance of a non-movable asset is only possible on the basis of payment of royalties,” he claimed. “So, he had already paid for it. It’s clear if you read the entire document, it’s almost the same as the sale deed.”
Delhi-based property rights lawyers Sunder Khatri tended to agree. A deed of conveyance, explained Khatri, is used to “convey the transfer of title of a property from A to B”. “Stamp duty has to paid to the authorities for this happen,” he said. “Also, there has to be some exchange of money between the buyer and seller.”
Meanwhile, the Mizo National Front vowed to step up the attack against Thanhawla. “We have a leadership meeting of the party to decide on the future course of action,” said Ruata, adding that the party would make it a major election issue.
This is not the first time that Lal Thanhawla is facing questions about probity. In July 2015, a Scroll.in investigation revealed that the chief minister gave road contracts to a firm in which his brother, Lal Thanzara, held shares. In wake of protests that followed the revelation, Lal Thanzara, resigned from both the state’s assembly and council of ministers.