The case of corruption against Lalu Prasad and his family members, besides others, has two key Jharkhand connections. One of the Railways-owned hotels given to Sujata Hotels of the Kochhar brothers for upkeep was in Ranchi, and the director of a shell company allegedly involved in the transfer of land in Patna in connection with the deal is wife of a Rajya Sabha MP from the state.
The nearly 100-year-old BNR (Bengal Nagpur Railway, formerly a railway zone) hotels of Indian Railways were in poor shape when the then NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to hand them over to private entities through IRCTC.
Lalu, who was the minister when the contract for maintenance of BNR hotels in Ranchi and Puri were awarded, on Friday said “kutta ghoomta thha wahaan (dogs used to roam there — in those hotels)”.
According to reports, for Ranchi BNR, only a few metres from the railway station, the Kochars, directors of Sujata Hotel Pvt Ltd, paid over Rs 15 crore in December 2006. They edged out the owners of Capitol Hill hotel, located close to BNR. For Puri BNR, located 200 metres from the beach, they reportedly paid around Rs 10 crore. Both deals were reportedly finalised on the same day in December 2006.
According to the hotel’s website, the Ranchi property now has 68 rooms (it was a 17-room facility earlier) on four floors, and four banquet halls. The Puri BNR, which had 34 rooms earlier, has now been developed into the “only heritage hotel” in Odisha, with 68 sea-facing rooms, according to the website.
Sarla Gupta, wife of Prem Chand Gupta, Rajya Sabha member who was a minister in UPA-I, was a director in Delight Marketing — as a “front benami holder for and on behalf of Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav”, according to the CBI FIR.
Elected to the Upper House in 2014, Gupta was supported by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Congress and other parties in the UPA. Efforts to reach him for a comment did not yield result.
The CBI had earlier booked Gupta and his son in a coal scam case in 2014 for allegedly inflating the net worth of their company by around Rs 100 crore to get the coal block allocated. Considered a close aide of Lalu and the RJD’s “business face” of RJD, Gupta had then denied the charge.
Jharkhand RJD spokesperson Rajesh Yadav said, “Gupta was in business much before he entered politics. But if we begin probing assets of each individual, not a single minister or top official can be absolved of corruption charges. BJP knows that Lalu alone can stop them in UP and Bihar, so it is targeting him.”
He also alleged that the Kochars were earlier linked to a prominent Central government minister who comes from Bihar, and that his party will “shed more light on that later”.