Dismissing objections raised by its own officials, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) changed its layout plan to allot a plot in the capital earmarked for a post office to an NGO closely associated with Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Vijay Goel in September 2016. In fact, Goel’s NGO kept asking for the plot, adjacent to a school it runs. And at one point, it openly upbraided the DDA for seeking documents.
In January 2014, soon after Goel became a Rajya Sabha member, Vaish Aggarwal Educational Society (VAES) — DDA records mention Goel as vice-president, son Siddhant and daughter Vidyun among members — sought land from the DDA to set up a toy bank.
Records scrutinised by The Indian Express show that a month later, DDA asked VAES to apply “on prescribed form”. Nothing moved for more than a year. However, the next year, on June 2015, VAES sent another letter which was acknowledged by DDA Additional Director (Institutional Land) in a file noting: “Pls process immediately”. On August 7, the DDA officially recorded the application on prescribed form.
Records show that between October 9 and 14 in 2015, DDA officers, processing the VAES file, put down on record that “there is no approved site available” and that “as per the provisions of Delhi’s Master Plan 2021, there is no User premise nomenclature as ‘toy bank-cum-playing centre and social activities for underprivileged children’.”
Within days, on October 16, DDA’s then Principal Commissioner (Land Distribution) J P Agrawal cleared the proposal for consideration. The approval, according to records, was given “considering the aim/objective of the society.”
DDA found a way around the objection that a toy bank didn’t fall in any prescribed category by categorising it as “orphaned/children centre.” As for non-availability of plot in the layout plan (LOP), DDA said: …”It may be considered to carve out a plot by making change in Zonal Plan/LOP from the available land, if admissible/available by Planning Department… suitable plot. may be identified and indicated along with LOP thereof for considering the matter further”.
Incidentally, at the same meeting where they eventually cleared the VAES application, DDA rejected an application for land from INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) on the ground that its purpose — setting up an INTACH academy — was “not covered under socio-cultural category.”
On December 23, 2015, a DDA file noting recorded that the 488-sq m plot “suggested” by VAES was visited by DDA officials. “Situated in Derawal Nagar, GT Road Delhi. the site under reference is maintained as a park where one side is adjoining to Adharsheela nursery school (run by VAES). (and) is earmarked for post office in the layout plan,” it said, asking the official concerned “to confirm/verify whether any correspondence has been sent to postal department”.
Subsequent file notings show that this plot was recommended for temple construction as one of 291 cases cleared at a meeting in February 2003. These allotments were put on hold pending investigation.
On January 15, 2016, a DDA official proposed that the change in layout plan to accommodate VAES request “be considered if the land is to be allotted for toy bank” and sought in-principle approval so that the application can be formally processed. Agrawal gave his approval on January 22, 2016.
The DDA’s Institutional Allotment Committee (IAC) recommended the toy bank proposal subject to a formal/valid sponsorship on May 5, 2016, while it “deferred” seven other applications on the same ground and rejected one for not furnishing sponsorship at all.
Instead of asking the VAES to provide a valid sponsorship letter, the DDA requested the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to “consider the application” and furnish “sponsorship/recommendation for allotment of land” in the prescribed format, adding that “this may please be treated as urgent”.
But the NGO was not impressed. The VAES wrote to the DDA that it failed “to understand that why you (DDA) are sending us again and again for the same thing” and “we think it (document already furnished) will fulfil all your requirement”.
The IAC meeting on July 8 cleared the allotment subject to approval of the layout plan by the screening committee of the DDA’s Planning Department. On July 18, Agrawal sought approval of the Lt Governor, also the DDA chairman, and the “competent authority” cleared the file on July 26.
The screening committee sanctioned the layout plan modification on August 8. The plot was allotted to VAES on September 1, 2016 and it made a payment of Rs 1.77 crore on October 19, 2016.
This allotment was the only disposal of institutional land under the socio-cultural category by the DDA in the last two years.
Asked if there was any precedent of modifying a layout plan to allot a plot earmarked for government use to a private party, Agrawal said he handed over charge of the land disposal division in July 2017 and would not be able to comment.
While Agrawal’s successor, Rajeev Verma, did not respond to phone calls and emails from The Indian Express, Commissioner (Planning) Sabyasachi Dass said: “Post offices are becoming obsolete and now serve only as savings outlets. Probably that’s the reason why the LOP (layout plan) was changed to allot that plot to a society.”
Najeeb Jung, the then Lt Governor, said he could not “recall” the allotment.
Asked why VAES sought a plot originally earmarked for government use and if he was aware that the layout plan had been changed to allot the land, Goel, in an email, said the VAES would respond. VAES secretary general Sandeep Garg said these questions “can be answered best by the allotting authority i.e. DDA.”
“If the land was earmarked for post office, it is clear that post office was still not made there for at least 20 years and it seems there was no plan of DDA to use it for that purpose. All procedures for allotment of land by DDA were followed in this case. The land has been allotted for toy bank-cum-play centre which is catering to underprivileged children including orphans, differently-abled kids, poorest children etc. DDA by allotting land has in fact participated in this noble cause,” Garg said in an email.
Stating that the minister was being dragged “into the matter unnecessarily”, Garg wrote that Goel “is neither an active member of the VAES society nor has been its Vice-President for many years”. DDA records of the August 2015 application for land show otherwise.
According to the VAES, the Toy Bank collects used and unused toys from different sources, restores them and distributes them among needy children. A not-for-profit organisation, the Toy Bank has recycled more than 500,000 toys over 15 years.