The actor may have unwittingly bought land which legally cannot be bought or sold as it belongs to the entire village.
On Thursday, more than 250 villagers gathered at the talathi's office in Panvel, protesting what they say is an illegal sale of their land to a political leader and actor Salman Khan.
The actor, who is embroiled in two other court cases, may be looking at a protracted legal battle again, because according to the rule book, buying or selling of land which belongs to any village is a cognisable offence.
The sleepy Vaje village near Panvel, home to 307 families, is putting up a spirited fight for 83 acres of surplus land they were given by the government to be tilled.
The Panch along with the villagers were joint custodians of this land till it was sold off to Congress leader Harbhans Singh and Salman. Villagers allege they were conned into parting with their land by the Panch, who convinced them that the alternative to selling was allowing the government to confiscate the land.
"The government gave the land to poor farmers for cultivation. Sometime back our Panch told us that government was planning to take the land back and in order to meet the expenses of putting up a fight, we need to sell a part of the land.
Recently we found out that 2.5 acres of the land had been sold to actor Salman Khan without even seeking any clearance from us, which is mandatory. Nobody knows where the money went," said Vishnu Patil, a resident of the village.
The villagers allege that the remaining 81 acres was also sold off unscrupulously. "The Panch gave us the same story and we agreed assuming that it was in our interest. We were conned into signing documents.
It was much later that we found out that the land was being sold to a political bigwig for profit," said Ganesh Patil, another resident, adding, "Though we did get some money from the second sale, we are all against letting outsiders grab it. We want all our land back."
The resolute villagers have filed complaints with Collector of Raigadh district who in turn has ordered an inquiry into the transactions. The inquiry is based on a circular dated January 2009 issued by the Raigadh District Collector, which says this about the vast tracts of lands owned by villages: "Since names of all the villagers cannot be put on the land records only names of Panch are put on them.
However, it has come to our notice that Panch or their kins sell off such land claiming to be theirs. These vast stretches of land are for the benefit for of public at large and not property of handful of people."
It further states, "It has been found that not only such sales have taken place but local Talathis and Circle Officers have given clearances to such sales. In some cases even the names of new owners have been added to land records.
This is a cognisable offence. In future no such sale or purchases should be allowed and would be considered as offences and action would be taken."
The panch however claims to be ignorant of the existence of any such rule. Bhagwan Patil, a member of the Panch, said, "We had no clue this circular. We are uneducated villagers. The officials who registered the names of new owners should have at least warned us. If we are being held responsible for this, so should they."
Patil also maintained that the decision to sell the land was taken in order to meet the expenses incurred during taking care of government formalities. "Every penny from both the sales was accounted for," he added.
The 7/12 land extract bearing Salman Khan's name
The Collector's office confirmed that an inquiry has been ordered. "Land belonging to the entire village cannot be sold or bought. In this case the villagers allege that they were conned by the Panch. Now we are hearing out the villagers, next we will question the Panch and buyers," said Chandrasen Pawar, Nayab Tehsildar of Panvel.
"We will finish the inquiry and recommend for both the deals to be scrapped. There is no doubt that the deals are in violation of the law," said a senior revenue department's official.
When Mumbai Mirror contacted Harbhans Singh, he said, "I had no idea of any such law. The deal was cleared by the then Tehsildar and even our name is on 7/12 extracts. I have paid the entire value of the plot to the village and I should not be blamed."
Several attempts to get in touch with Salman and his father Salim Khan, who manages the actor's property matters, did not yield any results.
Meanwhile both Khan and Singh have started work on their plots. A trip to the village revealed that they were constructing compound walls to demarcate their properties.