Real estate major DLF’s proposed high-rise residential project, barely a kilometre from Rashtrapati Bhavan, is on hold, caught in the middle of conflicting security assessments by government agencies, and now the subject of a CBI inquiry as well.
Last November, the CBI registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) against officials of the urban development (UD) ministry for allegedly favouring DLF, giving it permission to construct the building. The PE was registered following a reference from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which received a complaint.
In June 2012, the DLF project, on 23 acres on Sardar Patel Marg in Delhi, got the go-ahead from the UD ministry for a four-storey construction. Last October, DLF asked for sanction to add four more storeys — in effect, doubling the height of the building from 15 m to 30 m.
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The Intelligence Bureau found nothing irregular about this. In an assessment of that request in November last year, it said that “the proposed building would not pose any threat additional to what is presented by other tall buildings in the vicinity of Rashtrapati Bhavan complex”.
But in February 2013, the security wing of Delhi Police and the President’s Secretariat disagreed and sought a review of the original permission.
For its part, DLF argued, in an internal document, that the security concerns were “imaginary”. After all, it said, an eight-storey building is to come up near Talkatora Stadium for accommodation for Members of Parliament and a new construction, has been planned at Hotel Ashok. Next to Hotel Ashok is Hotel Samrat, of similar height, which overlooks the official residence of the Prime Minister. “Security norms need to be applied uniformly and not selectively to block legitimate construction activities,” it said.
The project has a history of twists and turns.
In 1992, the erstwhile Edward Keventer (Successors) Private Ltd (EKSPL), holding perpetual lease for dairy farming since 1942, sought land use conversion (for the project). The request was turned down in 2002. In the meantime, DLF took over management of EKSPL.
In October 2010, a Joint Security Survey conducted by Delhi Police, the Intelligence Bureau and the President’s Secretariat opposed the proposal citing security reasons.
In June 2011, the Delhi High Court granted EKSPL permission for residential construction, subject to security clearances. The court noted that use of land for residential purpose was permitted in the area and many residential premises existed there.
In 2012, a second JSS raised security issues but gave conditional clearance for construction up to a height of 15 m. This time, the JSS said that the DLF building would give “clear view of the Mughal Garden and the proposed auditorium within the complex.”
It cited an input from British intelligence agency MI5 that “Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba has operatives to launch para gliders and hang gliders to launch offensive on high value targets” . It came to the conclusion that the proposed building could be “used as a platform to launch aerial attack” and so called for a 39-metre-high perimeter wall was proposed to block direct view of the President’s Estate.
On October 1, 2012, DLF submitted a fresh application to the Ministry of Urban Development. And on February 5, 2013, it filed a separate request with Delhi Police for additional relaxation of building height permission.
But the police security wing cited JSS findings to note that “the building will give a clear view of the Mughal Garden where in-house functions are held” and added that “the earlier decision (permitting residential construction) should also be reviewed”.
An IAF study which began late 2012 is yet to submit its findings — the IAF was asked if the DLF project would fall on the flight path of VIP helicopters once the proposed helipad comes up on the President’s Estate.
On November 27, 2012, the Intelligence Bureau said the building “would not pose any threat additional to what is presented by the other tall buildings in the vicinity of Rashtrapati Bhavan complex.”
A DLF spokesperson declined to comment saying the review process was underway and it was awaiting a government response to its request. DLF has offered tighter security at the premises, even its takeover by security agencies, similar to arrangements made during Republic Day and Independence Day.
Besides the security establishment, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had also objected to the proposed project. The chief vigilance officer of the DDA, in a letter to the Additional Secretary in MoUD on August 13, 2012, said, “Permitting development of land in accordance with the land-use plan mentioned in Master Plan/Zonal Plan has serious implication as there are large number of such land owners having agricultural land which may have different land-use as per master plan who may also stake claim for development.”