TWO YEARS after the report of a commission that probed a number of land deals in Haryana, including one involving a company owned by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, the report remains stuck in litigation and is yet to be made public. Last week, Haryana police registered a fresh FIR on the same deal. Will this have any bearing on the original probe, and can the government act on the commission’s report?
In May 2015, the BJP-ruled Haryana government set up a one-man commission headed by Justice S N Dhingra. It probed land deals including one between Vadra’s Skylight Hospitality and DLF, struck during the 10-year rule of Congress Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The committee submitted its report to the government in August 2016. In November that year, Hooda challenged the commission’s validity in Punjab & Haryana High Court, and the state government gave an undertaking that it would not make the report’s contents public until the court decides on the petition. Since then, there had been over 26 hearings in the High Court. The Supreme Court, too, took up the matter while referring to another land acquisition case, in Manesar. In March this year, the Supreme Court urged the High Court to decide on Hooda’s petition within two months. Although both the Haryana government and Hooda sought extensions, the Supreme Court dismissed their applications last month and fixed the next hearing on September 14.
The new FIR
Surender Sharma, a resident of Rathivas village in Nuh district, has lodged a complaint with Gurgaon police alleging that Hooda, Vadra, DLF and Onkareshwar Properties conspired with influential builders, ministers and top state government officers in an alleged scam running into Rs 5,000 crore. Accusing them of corruption, cheating, criminal conspiracy, fraud and forgery, the FIR has demanded legal action. The complainant has alleged that Skylight Hospitality, launched in 2007 with a capital of Rs 1 lakh, still managed to buy, in 2008, 3.5 acres land from Onkareshwar Properties at Rs 7.5 crore, according to the sale deed. The FIR alleges that Vadra obtained permission from the state Town and Country Planning Department to develop a “commercial colony” on the land, following which he sold the developer’s licence to DLF and made a profit of Rs 58 crore. The complainant has added that the association with Vadra and Hooda also helped DLF in other ways, such as in wrongly allotting 350 acres in Wazirabad.
This probe, that probe
There is no fresh allegation in the new complaint. Senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka had raised the red flag back in October 2012, and cancelled the mutation of the land. In two reports to the government in 2013 and 2015, Khemka had described the land deals and supported his allegations with official records.
Will police now begin the probe from scratch? Some legal experts feel they will do so, with the probe team likely to summon records from various state departments. While some legal experts feel the police may not be able to refer to the Justice Dhingra commission’s report because the government has given an undertaking that it will not make it public until the court decides on Hooda’s petition, others feel police can refer to it for the purpose of investigation since it has already been submitted to the government. The Opposition, however, claims the report will not stand legal scrutiny and alleges that the FIR is the government’s ‘Plan B’ to keep targeting the Congress and its leaders.
Meanwhile, the land
The land in the deal is in Shikohpur village of Gurgaon. The licence to develop a commercial area on the land, which was originally issued to Skylight Hospitality, has not yet been cancelled by the Town and Country Planning Department. Senior Congress leaders claim that had there been any illegality in the deal, the government would have cancelled the licence immediately. All these years, DLF has been paying the licence renewal fee.
Cases against Hooda
The recent FIR marks the fourth case against Hooda.
* In April 2017, the CBI booked Hooda and a few Haryana bureaucrats on charges of corruption in connection with alleged irregularities in allotment of land in Panchkula to Associated Journals Ltd, publisher of National Herald. The Enforcement Directorate is probing alleged money-laundering angle in this.
* In February 2018, the CBI submitted a chargesheet against Hooda and 33 others for an alleged scam in land acquisition in Manesar, Gurgaon. The chargesheet alleged that builders bought land worth Rs 1,600 crore for just Rs 100 crore from gullible farmers on the pretext that it will be acquired by the state government for a nominal amount.
* In 2016, the CBI booked Hooda and a few former bureaucrats in a case involving alleged irregularities in the allotment of Panchkula industrial plots. The beneficiaries of 14 such industrial plots, allotted in 2012, too were booked. The probe is still on.