The Rajasthan government’s decision to seize 374 hectares of prime land in Bikaner’s Kolayat tehsil, including plots belonging to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra, has brought matters to a head.
The Congress has blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the mess, saying it wrongfully allotted land in 2006-7 to 16 farmers who were not eligible for compensation for alleged displacement from their land for an army project in the 1990s. The government acquired land from 34 villages to build a firing range for the army. These farmers then sold off the land to various business groups, allegedly including Vadra’s company.
The BJP returned to power in Rajasthan late in 2013, ousting a Congress government. It had earlier ruled the state from 2003 to 2008.
Turning the tables on the BJP, the Congress has demanded action against the then revenue minister in the BJP government for allotting land to fake claimants.
“Obviously, only revenue officials like sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs) and tehsildars can’t be held accountable. We demand a probe against the then revenue minister,” said Congress spokesperson Archana Sharma.
She claimed the inquiry report (that found these allotments wrong) was with the government for six months. “It was reluctant to act because it had itself to blame for the mess. If anyone bought this land, he can at best be a victim,” she said.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “I have said earlier that steps in a legal proceeding ought not to be sensationalised at every intermediate stage....secondly, from diverse press reports itself it appears that this land even allegedly had already been sold by Skylight Hospitality Private Limited and other companies well before the allotment was cancelled. Thirdly, whoever is the claimed asserted owner will doubtless take appropriate legal action.”
Skylight Hospitality Private Limited is owned by Vadra.
Another Congress spokesperson, Manish Tewari, called the Rajasthan government action of seizing the land “political vendetta” and “witch-hunting."
Kolayat tehsildar Gajendra Singh Nain told HT that he found many land mutations (transfer of ownership) suspicious and began an inquiry in March 2013. After it was found that the land had been wrongfully allotted, the matter was reported to the state government, which cancelled the mutations through an order dated October 31, 2014.
Vadra originally held 74.85 hectares of the seized land. He is accused of making windfall gains on purchases of large tracts of land in Rajasthan and Haryana, where the then Congress-led governments are alleged to have helped him acquire land at below-market prices.
Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje told HT last month that instances of wrongdoing had been found in Vadra's land purchases and these deals had been "aided and abetted" by the previous Congress government of Ashok Gehlot.