Former Uttarakhand Cong chief questioned in connection with NH 74 scam
The national highway-74 scam that has rocked the the hill state has now taken a ‘political’ hue with the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that is probing the scam, on Wednesday questioning former state Congress chief Kishore Upadhyay.
The SIT questioned Upadhyay regarding a bank account opened before the last year’s assembly polls.
It is alleged that a bank account was opened with the State Bank of India, Dehradun branch in which “heavy amounts” was deposited, especially from Rudrapur, where the ₹300 crore NH 74 scam has taken place.
In March, the then Kumaon commissioner D Senthil Pandiyan unearthed the scam in procurement of land for construction of the highway in the district.
Trivendra Singh Rawat, who took over the reins of the state as chief minister on March 19, announced that his government will follow a zero tolerance policy against corruption and suspended seven provisional civil services officers for their alleged involvement in the case and recommended a CBI probe into the scam.
It is alleged that besides officials, a section of the ruling BJP and opposition Congress too received kickbacks, an allegation both the parties have rubbished.
The CBI probe was, however, not initiated after objections raised by Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari, following which the state government ordered a SIT probe into the scam.
Upadhyay confirmed that he was questioned by the SIT sleuths, but said that he not involved in any wrongdoing.
“Records are maintained by the bank and everything is in black and white,” the former state Congress party chief said.
The present state Congress chief Preetam Singh echoed his predecessor and said :“Don’t understand why the SIT not searching the account.”
The Trivendra Singh Rawat-led BJP has faced criticism for going soft on the issue of the national highway.
The government, in June, transferred Pandiyan from the post of Kumaon commissioner. A letter written by Pandiyan within days after his transfer kicked off a controversy. Pandiyan in his letter expressed concerned over his security.
WHAT IS SCAM
The 375-km NH 74, is being constructed by an Omani firm.
The highway from Jaspur to Khatima was to be widened for which work was entrusted to different agencies.
The nature of the land was allegedly changed from agricultural to commercial under Section 143 of Zamidari Abolishment and Land Reforms Act, 1950.
Farmers from Jaspur, Bajpur and Kashipur whose family members who do not live in the district but have illegally changed the land use to claim compensation that was more than 10 times higher, in collusion with land revenue officials from the National Highways Authority.
The change of the land use of the agriculture land was carried out from 2012-13 and continued until 2015.
FARMERS TO RETURN MONEY
Meanwhile, the special land acquisition office (SLAO) in Udham Sing Nagar district has opened a bank account with the local SBI branch for the farmers who want to return excess compensation they received. Until now, eight farmers have been provided account number by the SLAO.
The NHAI acquired land from farmers for the widening and strengthening a 120-km stretch of NH-74 between Jaspur and Sitarganj in Udham Singh Nagar.
Compensation was paid by the NHAI to farmers whose land was acquired for constructing the highway.
A number of farmers allegedly received inflated compensation that was 10 to 20 times higher, by changing date on documents with the help of revenue officials and the nature of land use from agricultural to commercial land under Section 143 of Zamidari Abolishment and Land Reforms Act, 1950, causing huge loss to the government.
But fear of arrest, has led a number of farmers to return the compensation amount received from the NHAI to the state government.
Eight farmers have expressed their wish return to exces amount of compensation to the SIT, sources in the district police, said.
Following which the SIT has submitted the matter in a special court in Nainital. The Court has given Udham Singh Nagar district magistrate 15 days back to open an account in a bank for depositing the compensation.
Following the directive of district magistrate Neeraj Khairwal, the SLAO has opened a back account with the SBI on Monday.
The number of the bank account opened by the SLAO has been provided to farmers who wish to return the compensation.
District senior superintendent of police Sadanand Date said a new account has been opened in the SBI, and farmers can deposit excess compensation in the account but before depositing the amount they will have to take permission of the administration.
(With inputs from Mohan Rajput in Rudrapur)