Once again, the CBI has done a flip-flop in the IRCTC hotels scam case.
First, the agency named former rail minister Lalu Prasad in the FIR, after one of its own wings had pointed out that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove that he had influenced officials to secure contracts for a preferred bidder.
Now, the CBI has named former Railways official Rakesh Saksena as the main accomplice in the chargesheet, after omitting his name from the FIR registered on July 7, 2017.
The CBI chargesheet, filed on April 16, names Saksena as the key conspirator for initiating changes in qualifying norms for bidders and extending the bid submission date for the development, maintenance and operation of BNR hotels in Ranchi and Puri to allegedly favour Sujata Hotels in exchange for prime land in Patna for Lalu’s family.
On March 16, The Indian Express reported on divisions within the CBI in proceeding against Lalu in this case — while the agency’s Economic Offences Division had pressed for an FIR, its legal wing had stated that there was no evidence to prove the key charges.
Three days later, The Indian Express reported that the CBI had removed former IRCTC director (tourism) Saksena’s name from the FIR — the agency gave no reason for the omission.
In its charge sheet, the CBI states that “it was pursuant to the conspiracy that the note for date of extension of submission of bids and changes in the tender conditions were initiated directly at the level of Rakesh Saksena whereas majority of the proposals at IRCTC have been initiated by the subordinate rank officers”.
The charge sheet states: “On 1 November 2006, Saksena moved a proposal for extension of the date for sale of tender documents for Budget Hotels as well as four IRCTC properties. It was proposed that the date for IRCTC properties (including BNR Hotels) was to be extended up to November 30 and date of submission to December 1.”
The charge sheet says that “pursuant to the criminal conspiracy and to favour Sujata Hotels”, Saksena initiated a note on November 13 for a series of amendments in the minimum eligibility conditions in respect of BNR Hotels. They include reducing the turnover criteria to two years instead of three; tweaking the competence criteria of operating and maintaining two-star hotels or equivalent to cover the last two years instead of five; and, allowing self-certification by bidders on their star certification instead of a competent authority.
The CBI claims “there was no explanation or justification in any file or statement” for these changes which, it alleges, were made with “a dishonest intention” to suit Sujata Hotels that was ineligible as per the criteria approved by the then IRCTC managing director on October 6, 2006.
The hotels contract, the CBI claims in the charge sheet, was in lieu of Sujata Hotels’ promoters selling 358 decimal of prime land in Patna to Lalu associate Prem Chand Gupta’s Delight Marketing Company Private Ltd (DMCPL) for Rs 1.61 crore in February 2005.
The ownership of DMCPL was transferred to Lalu’s family members at throwaway price after he demitted office in May 2009, it claims.
“That after Lalu Prasad Yadav demitted office, the process of transfer of shares of DMCPL to his family members started w.e.f. 31 May 2010 and culminated in February 2014, with (wife) Rabri Devi and (son) Tejaswi Yadav coming into possession of entire 4,002 shares. The complete control of the company was taken by the family members of Lalu Prasad Yadav by 2014 with the appointment of (son) Tej Pratap Yadav and (daughter) Chanda Yadav as directors of the company on 29 September 2014,” says the charge sheet.
However, cognizance of the charge sheet has not yet been taken by the Special Judge (CBI cases) in the Patiala Court as the sanction for prosecution, which was sought on April 14, has not been given for B K Agarwal, the then group general manager (tourism services), IRCTC, who is presently working as Additional Member, Railway Board.
Lalu Prasad has denied all charges and claimed that they were part of a “political conspiracy” to target him and his family members.