Indicating it was prima facie of the opinion that some actions of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda were “contrary to law”, the Justice S N Dhingra Commission, probing alleged irregularities in grant of licences to developers in four villages of Gurgaon by the previous Congress government, has told Hooda that it wanted to give him an opportunity since “it is obligatory on the Commission to give an opportunity to the persons in respect of whom the record shows that the person acted contrary to law”.
In a written order in the matter concerning Hooda, whose role in the grant of licences for establishment of commercial/residential establishments in the four villages is under the scanner, Justice Dhingra pointed out that in view of Hooda’s failure to appear before the Commission, the panel would be at liberty to “draw its own inference from the records available with it”.
The Dhingra Commission was appointed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar in May 2015 to probe alleged irregularities in grant of licences by the Department of Town and Country Planning (T&CP) to some companies in Gurgaon’s Sector 83 developing commercial colonies. Later, the scope of the probe was expanded to four villages in Gurgaon.
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In the run-up to the 2014 Haryana assembly elections, the BJP had said it would probe the grant of licences if it came to power since it allegedly involved Skylight Hospitality of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The BJP alleged that the company struck a questionable deal with real estate major DLF after the Hooda government granted change of land use certificate to land owned by the company in Shikohpur village.
Last month, Skylight Hospitality approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court stating that the Haryana Excise and Taxation department had not provided it complete documents on the basis of which it was issued evasion of Value Added Tax notices in October 2015 over allegations that it “sold” the licence of 3.5 acres in Shikohpur village to DLF.
The Dhingra Commission order concerning Hooda was passed on March 25 since he was also minister in-charge of T&CP when he led the Congress government in the state for 10 years.
“The records show that Minister in charge of T&CP Department was the final authority for giving concurrence for grant of
letter of intent/licence for establishing commercial/residential group housing colonies under Development Plan 2021 and subsequent development plans. Since his concurrence was necessary, he had given his approval or comments almost in all files through his Principal Secretary. Since he played a major role in grant of licences, as his concurrence was must for grant of each and every licence, the Commission had summoned him,” the order stated.
The role of Chhatar Singh, former principal secretary to Hooda, who was later appointed member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) by the previous UPA government, is also being probed.
Sources told The Indian Express that since being set up, the Commission, which has time until June 7 to submit its report, has come across “several instances of the Principal Secretary to the then Chief Minister writing comments on behalf of the Chief Minister on files dealing with grant of licences, including approving grant of licences”.
The Commission first asked Hooda to appear before it on March 21 but his lawyer asked for another date on the plea that Hooda was busy with the assembly session. The Commission then fixed March 25 as the date.
Hooda did not appear and sent his lawyer, senior advocate Narender Kumar Hooda, who submitted a letter from the former Chief Minister in which he cited reasons for not appearing before the panel.
Among other things, Hooda claimed that the notice sent by the Commission suffered from “complete vagueness, lack of specificity and absence of particularisation regarding commencement and ending period for each village”. Hooda also sought documents/material to enable him to prepare for the questioning.
He also alleged that the “tone and tenor of the notice and its all encompassing nature suggested that the observations and/or findings against the noticee were proposed and intended”.
Justice Dhingra, in his order, responded to Hooda’s allegations: “It was not possible to put to the witness all the files which were death with by him during his tenure. So only some sample cases were to be put to him so as to understand the modus operandi of the Minister in charge of T&CP Department in granting concurrence or refusal as well as reasons for putting comments. As is clear from notice, no specific complaint was to be put to Shri Hooda… Since for about 10 years, Shri Hooda had been Minister in charge of T&CP Department, it could not be considered by the Commission that his entire memory had been washed out in respect of the reasons as to why he accorded approval and why he refused approval.”
Asked why Hooda had not appeared before the Commission, his lawyer Narender Hooda said: “We had sought certain documents from the Commission as well as the provision under which he had been summoned. How can we be expected to appear and respond to any question if we are not made aware of the material being used against us? Mr Hooda is ready to face any inquiry, answer any question as he has nothing to hide.”