A note from former Gurugram Deputy Commissioner Satyaprakash T L to his successor reveals the pressure the senior bureaucrat faced on a real estate-related issue, eventually leading to a decision that in his own assessment may not have been appropriate. The note, accessed by The Indian Express, is dated January 16, the day Satyaprakash, a 2002-batch Haryana-cadre IAS officer, relinquished charge as DC Gurugram, and is addressed to “DC (successor) Gurugram”. The new DC is Hardeep Singh.
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In the three-page letter numbered 386/MB, Satyaprakash speaks of the “high stakes” and the “zero margins of error” available to revenue officials in a case that came to the public eye following his controversial January 2 order divesting the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) of 464 acres of land in Gurugram (popularly known as Gawal Pahari).
Documents accessed by The Indian Express reveal that the land, valued at over Rs 3,000 crore, is mired in a labyrinth of pending civil suits and appeals by private players in the courts of Collector and Divisional Commissioner of Gurugram for the last 37 years.
As per records, the land’s mutation was in the name of MCG until the beginning of this year. Satyaprakash had signed the order dated January 2 holding the mutation of 464 acres in Gawal Pahari (mutation no. 3249) ab intio void. After signing the order, he sent it to the office of Haryana’s Chief Secretary D S Dhesi suggesting it should be “legally examined”.
As first reported in The Indian Express, the Haryana government on February 6 hurriedly stepped in to put the order on hold. Gurugram Divisional Commissioner D Suresh issued a stay on Satyaprakash’s order. After Express’s report, the MCG last week issued eviction notices to those in possession of the controversial chunk of land. It is also contemplating a demolition drive on the land this week.
Satyaprakash’s “leaving out note” focusses only on this single case. The subject line says “Leaving out note on Metro Valley-Instructions by Office of CS[chief secretary]”. Metro Valley, a real estate developer, is one of 180 private parties which went to court in the case.
In the note, written two weeks after his order cancelling mutation no. 3249 for Gawal Pahari, Satyaprakash says, “It is also worth mentioning here that I happened to and continued to believe that mutation no. 3249 is valid”.
He wrote: “I don’t know as to what were the deliberations held at highest level, but I was told to adjudicate whether 3249 is valid or not. It is an extremely leading question. But the superior officers must have felt that this was legally invalid unless compelling reasons exist. The office of Chief Secretary imposed a time line of six weeks also”.
Satyaprakash described two previous orders in the case, by former Financial Commissioners (Revenue) Yudhvir Malik and SS Dhillon, as a “Damocles’ sword” hanging on his head. Both had decided the mutation of the MCG on the land should be cancelled in favour of private players.
Though it is unclear who was behind it, their decision was overturned and the mutation restored to MCG on December 18, 2015. It fell on Satyaprakash to “decide” the matter.
“I am specifically writing this as the stakes are too high and as the margin of errors for we (sic.) revenue officials is too small or zero. This is a mess-up due to what we call in public policy as path dependency. Due to an error done in past, we are confused about we need to do but no avail (sic) “, he wrote.
Other documents accessed by The Indian Express reveal that Devender Singh, Principal Secretary (Industries and Commerce Department), wrote to Satyaprakash on November 23, 2016, conveying that the “matter was examined by Chief Secretary and on his recommendations, the Hon’ble Chief Minister has desired that the matter may be adjudicated upon by DC, Gurugram, in his revenue court, in a time-bound manner, not exceeding six weeks”.
Satyaprakash wrote to his successor: “I am writing this to you only to impress upon the spirit of the report so that you will raise appropriate issues before implementing the executive order.”
That eventuality did not come to pass as the government rushed to obtain a stay on Satyaprakash’s order once the details of the case started leaking.
In the same note, a clearly agonised Satyaprakash also raised several questions on the manner in which land went into the possession of private builders and colonisers and the subsequent and selective action taken by the government. “Why the communications went wrong in mid-1950s, why the orders of Sh Harbaksh Singh couldn’t be appropriately countered, how the land was given to TERI and Ansal Valley View, why notice of change in mutation was given to one or few for taking possession of land are some of the issues that need answer. These are all path dependency issues. At best, we can only provide continuity or attempt to provide continuity and accordingly, try to take a best possible measure in the interest of the state,” he wrote.
Satyaprakash, who moved to the sought-after post of Director, Town and Country Planning Department, on the same day he wrote this note, refused to comment on its contents. But he said, “I only referred my order to the office of Chief Secretary, suggesting it should be legally examined”.
Repeated attempts were made to seek Haryana Chief Secretary D S Dhesi’s comments, but he declined.
While replying to the media’s queries on the issue in Gurugram on Tuesday, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said, “This is a very old issue for which many decisions have been taken in the past. This issue dates back even before the partition of the country and is very complicated. Either the experts could resolve it or it could be forwarded to the Supreme Court of India”.