On the heels of the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam in Mumbai, the armed forces find themselves entangled in a new scandal involving 300 acres of controversy-ridden land on Delhi’s outskirts, valued currently between Rs 300 crore to Rs 600 crore but sold dirt cheap to the lucky ones who were allotted the plots.
The defence ministry has ordered a probe into this housing project straddling Noida and Faridabad, in which farmland was bought at the rate of Rs 2.40 lakh per acre and sold at around Rs 6 lakh per acre to 221 allottees, all of them from different branches of the military. Though the purchase was made in 1996 and the plots were allotted some years later, the rates are laughably low.
The ministry is investigating allegations that the private developer who executed the project acquired the land through dubious means with the collusion of some military officials. The role of former Navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar, who oversaw the project, is being closely examined.
Air Marshal Kuldeep Rai (retd), president of the farmowner’s association in the area, told Hindustan Times that large chunks of the property comprised bhoodan land whose sale is not permitted. (Bhoodan land is land acquired by the state through the voluntary land reform movement launched by Acharya Vinoba Bhave in the 1950s, and distributed to the landless.)
Curiously, Admiral Kumar owns a 30-acre farmhouse right next to the contentious stretch, built for him by the same man who developed the property, Daryao Singh, a retired Navy captain.
Not surprisingly, the housing project has been embroiled in litigation across Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for the past six to seven years. The probe will look into eight points of irregularities brought to the notice of the defence ministry by allottees after the project ran into legal hurdles.
The project was overseen by the Air Force Naval Housing Board (AFNHB), headed by a relatively junior officer. The Board’s chief reported to Kumar when he was navy’s chief of personnel officer in the 1990s, when the scheme got off the ground.
Significantly, the AFNHB broke off all dealings with Capt Daryao Singh in 2003.
Kumar, whose name also figured in the Barak missile deal, said the Congress government was hounding him for political reasons. “This smacks of political vendetta,” he said. He added: “People are jealous as I own a farm… I sold my mother’s properties and jewellery to fund the purchase.”
Referring to the Adarsh scam in which names of three retired military chiefs have cropped up, he said the bureaucracy was envious of the military’s image and wanted to fix former chiefs.
“The project seems to be riddled with irregularities and suspected corruption at senior level. The title of the land is questionable and its utility uncertain,” a defence ministry source, however, said. “There were no irregularities in the land deal,” said Daryao Singh.
The AFNHB stonewalled all queries on the project.