Following the Centre’s move to inquire into the financial affairs of Robert Vadra’s company Skylight Hospitality and the BJP government in Rajasthan cancelling the mutation of about 890 acres bought by Vadra’s company, the two-month-old BJP regime in Haryana is also seriously contemplating to initiate a probe into the land transactions of businessman son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
On January 1, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar for the first time made a categorical remark when he tweeted: “State government is proceeding in the Vadra-DLF land deal case administratively as well as under the law.” His comments bear significance as it signalled a departure from his rather non-committal response on the issue earlier.
A Commission of Inquiry
While there has not been any fresh development in the matter so far, sources said the BJP government in Haryana could set up a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to probe the land deals, including the one involving realty giant DLF. Indications to this effect were also given by the BJP in-charge for Haryana affairs, Anil Jain recently. A Commission of Inquiry headed by a retired high court judge would be an ideal option to probe the land deals as it will also provide the new government to steer clear of the issue and heckling of not doing enough.
Officials said chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar was briefed on the issue a few days after he took over. However, it was felt that before proceeding in the matter, the government should ensure that it was on a firm footing.
Khemka and Vadra deals
While the then director-general, Consolidation of Holdings (DGCH), Ashok Khemka had in October 2012 ordered the cancelling of mutation of a 3.5-acre in Gurgaon’s Shikohpur, the land that was sold Vadra to DLF, a committee constituted by the Congress government had in its report termed Khemka’s orders as inappropriate and without jurisdiction.
The committee had also held Khemka’s order to be against the provisions of the East Punjab Holdings (Consolidation and Prevention of Fragmentation) Act and Punjab Land Revenue Act.
Khemka was also chargesheeted by the previous government for major penalty under Rule 8 of the All-India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules. Primarily, he was held liable for administrative misconduct for overstepping jurisdiction in passing orders to cancel the mutation of 3.5 acre in Gurgaon’s Shikohpur village and indulging in public criticism of the actions and policies of the state government. A moot point here would be that whether the BJP government will drop Khemka’s chargesheet or put the already over delayed disciplinary proceedings on hold till the probe it over.
Haryana finance minister Capt Abhimanyu had in an interview on November 12 told HT the BJP had raised several issues pertaining to land scams during the Congress rule and those were much larger and bigger in quantum. “We are seized of the bigger picture. We have made a commitment to the people that we will investigate all these land scams and we stand by what we said. Of course, this includes the Vadra-DLF deal. There are hundreds of other land deals that should also be investigated. Whatever comes out will be made known to the people of the state, whether something wrong was done or not,” Capt Abhimanyu had said.
The principal opposition group in Haryana assembly, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) had demanded a probe into the various land deals, including the one involving Vadra, during the first assembly session of the new Vidhan Sabha last year. Putting the newly-formed government under pressure, leader of the INLD legislature party, Abhay Singh Chautala had on November 4 last made a demand on the floor of the House.
In fact, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who was also present in the House, had said he was ready for a free and fair probe into the allegations of irregularities levelled by the INLD leader.
Hooda had said whatever decisions were taken by the Congress government were within the rules and policy. “Not an inch of government land was handed to a private builder. Our actions were like an open book and anyone can check it out,” the former chief minister had said.
Sources said the probe if and when initiated by the new government into the land deals is likely to be broad based. The DLF-Vadra deals will be a part of the larger inquiry. “The allotment of Ulhawas gram panchayat land in Gurgaon to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) for setting up an eye hospital and the subsequent extensions given to the RGCT despite the Trust not being able to adhere to the completion deadlines could also come under probe scanner,” sources said.
Leisure project unlikely to be probed
Since the Punjab and Haryana high court in September 2014 disapproved the allotment of 350 acres of acquired land in Gurgaon to DLF for a leisure project on the grounds of not being transparent, fair, just and reasonable, the new government is unlikely to initiate any inquiry into the matter. The HC had, however, upheld the acquisition of the land.
“It is held that the subject-allotment neither meets with the ingredients of public interest nor it serves the public purpose of generating or maximising the state’s revenue,” the HC said. While the previous Congress government had challenged the HC decision in the Supreme Court, the new government withdrew the special leave petition (SLP) challenging high court orders.
The DLF and Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) had separately challenged the September 3, 2014 order of justice Surya Kant Sharma and justice Anmol Rattan Singh of the high court in the Supreme Court. Sources said the BJP government was not keen to become a co-petitioner in the matter and would prefer being the respondent in the matter.
After the counsel for HSIIDC sought permission to withdraw the petition with a liberty to file a fresh SLP, a three judge bench of the apex court on November 28 granted the permission.
“The special leave petition is disposed off as withdrawn with the liberty to file fresh SLP,” the order said.
On the SLP filed by the DLF, the Supreme Court bench of chief justice HL Dattu, justice AK Sikri and justice NV Ramana, however, ordered that status quo be maintained by the parties. The matter remains pending before the apex court.
Vadra-DLF deal timeline
October 12, 2012: Khemka orders inquiry into alleged undervaluation of Vadra-owned properties in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Palwal and Mewat.
October 15: Orders setting aside of mutation for 3.5 acres in Gurgaon’s Shikohpur village.
December 28: Govt committee to probe Khemka’s orders submits its findings, terms orders inappropriate and without jurisdiction.
September 26, 2013: Chief minister orders action under major penalty clause against Khemka.