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Friday, August 14, 2020

23 years later, discovery of ‘grave error’ halts construction of Haryana’s state of art museum

After Principal Secretary (Archaeology and Museums Department) Ashok Khemka flagged the discrepancy, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar issued directions “to fix responsibility for the grave errors”. Khemka said he had also discovered that the land was not even measured during allotment in 1996.

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Chandigarh | Published: July 28, 2020 4:07:41 am
art museum, grave error discovery, Haryana news, Chandigarh news, Indian express news The plot in Panchkula’s Sector 5 where the museum was to come up. (Express photo)

More than two decades after a plot was allotted to the Haryana archaeology department to build a state-of-the-art museum, the first brick is yet to be laid because it has been discovered that an excess payment worth crores was made for an “undersized plot”.

After Principal Secretary (Archaeology and Museums Department) Ashok Khemka flagged the discrepancy, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar issued directions “to fix responsibility for the grave errors”. Khemka said he had also discovered that the land was not even measured during allotment in 1996.

Incidentally, the state government had made Khattar do the bhumi pujan ceremony in March 19 on the land. However, it later discovered that construction could not even begin till the issue of the plot’s incorrect dimensions and excessive payment is settled.

The 9,680 sq. yards plot was allotted to the archaeology department on August 23, 1996, for construction of the State Archaeological Museum in Sector 5, Panchkula, at the rate of Rs 185 per sq. yard (Rs 17,90,800). Full payment was made then to the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), now called Haryana Shahri Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP), in 1997-1998. Subsequently, possession of the plot was given to the department on May 22, 1998. Ownership of the plot with Floor-Area-Ratio (FAR) of 100 per cent was vested in the archaeology department on the date the possession was given.

On May 23, 2019, the PWD (Buildings & Roads) informed the archaeology department that the actual dimensions of the plot were not as per the zoning plan. It was subsequently discovered that instead of 9,680 sq. yards, HUDA had given possession of 8,860 sq. yards.

Later, the archaeology department requested HUDA to increase the FAR from 100 per cent to 150 per cent, which was allowed. However, HUDA asked for additional payment of Rs 22.88 crore from the archaeology department, which was also paid in two installments in March and July 2017. HUDA calculated this additional payment amount at the rate of Rs 19,000 per square metre for full utilisation of 14,520 sq. yards (including additional FAR).

However, Khemka said that it was a grave error on HUDA’s part to charge the archaeology department such a huge amount for additional FAR, and that too for the undersized plot.

Calling it a “fraud” played by HUDA, because full price for 9,680 sq. yards was already paid by the archaeology department before taking possession of the plot in 1998, Khemka has now given it three options – “1) The HSVP charges money for additional 50 per cent FAR (i.e. for additional 4,840 square yards @ Rs 19,000 per sq are = Rs 7,68,90,264) and refunds the excess amount already taken in 2017 (Rs 15,19,90,064) with 8 per cent annual interest, provided the HSVP makes good the shortfall of 820 sq. yards within a reasonable time period; 2) the archaeology department agrees to take possession of 8,860 sq yards on as-is-where-is basis and the excess amount paid for 9,680 sq yards is adjusted towards the additional 50 per cent FAR and in this case, the excess amount of Rs 17.15 crore is recovered from HSVP with 8 per cent annual interest; or 3) Close the eye on the ‘scam’. This will help subsidise losses of HSVP out of public money. The losses to HSVP are primarily due to corruption within. In making excess payment to HSVP causing loss to public money, the incompetency of the archaeology and museums department and the finance department cannot be ignored. Option no. 3 will require approval of FD, CAG and Vidhan Sabha through the committee on public finances”.

Acting on Khemka’s letter, Khattar issued directions to “fix responsibility of the department’s officers/officials having taken possession on May 22, 1998, without noticing the shortfall of area and continuing to do so till May 23, 2019. The CM also gave directions to “fix responsibility for having made excess payments in March and July, 2017 without any protest”.

In response to Khattar’s directions, Khemka has now sought relevant records from the HSVP and also found that “no measurement of the site was done at the time of allotment (August, 1996) or possession (May, 1998) or raising of additional demand (September, 2016) before the matter was brought to light by PWD (B&R) in May, 2019”.

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