Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Vadra’s dream project – a three-storey cottage in the lap of Himalayas – next to President of India’s summer resort, has run into fresh controversy. BJP has raised questions on permissions granted to build the house.
Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra were here this week to oversee the construction and ongoing works, mainly interiors and woodwork. Raising serious reservations on permissions for the construction, Shimla MLA Suresh Bhardwaj wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to cancel the permission.
Releasing copies of the letter to the media, Bhardwaj – who is also BJP’s chief whip in the state assembly – said permissions to earlier owners of the same plot, bought by Priyanka Gandhi in 2007, was denied on the pretext of security considerations. The president’s secretariat had specifically advised the state government in October 2004 to put an embargo on constructions in the vicinity of The Retreat.
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“How can you apply double standards for two citizens as being SPG protectees as Priyanka Gandhi claims, doesn’t fully rule out the security risks to the property of President of India, barely few meters away from the upcoming Cottage,” said Bhardwaj.
As per documents available with the BJP MLA, a retired naval officer Devinderjeet Singh had purchased about 16 Biswas of land near the ‘Retreat’ in village Chharabra. He submitted an application for building permission for the construction of cottages.
Principal Secretary (Home) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh sent a letter dated August 24, 2002 to the Director General of Police, and sought opinion in consultation with Additional Director General Of Police (CID) and President’s Secretariat. The Director General of Police’ letter dated June 12, 2003 informed the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) that the residential construction of any kind in the vicinity of ‘The Retreat’ area being VVIP’s zone was not advisable from security point of view.
Thereafter Commodore Devinderjeet Singh made a fresh representation to the Chief Secretary on August 17, 2003. On this, Principal Secretary (Home) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh sent a communication to the secretary to the President of India on October 12, 2004 enclosing the earlier correspondence.
The Under Secretary (EAB) of the President’s Secretariat sent a communication to the Principal Secretary (Home) to the Government of HP on November 11, 2004.
The text of the letter dated November 11, 2004 reads as “With reference to your No. Home-(A)- E-(3)- 42/2003-II dated 12.10.2004, I am directed to state that the responsibility for the security of President of India when the President is at the Retreat/Shimla is that of the State Government and the state Government should give a considered opinion in the matter. However, in terms of the long-term perspective and consequences that may follow in granting such a permission and after taking due consideration some embargo may have to be placed by notifying certain area surrounding the Retreat as ‘No Construction Zone’. Otherwise, the possibility of other such demands snowballing on the strength of the present precedent cannot be ruled out.”
The Inspector General Of Police (CID) informed the Principal Secretary (Home) on November 5, 2004 that the entire area of Khasra No. 264-269 should be kept free from any kind of construction as it was having the common boundary with ‘The Retreat Estate’ and the same was in very close proximity. The Inspector General of Police had specially recommended that the permission could not be accorded to raise the construction on various security considerations and ten such reasons were specifically given by him to the Chief Secretary.
The committee comprising of the Chief Secretary and the Director General Of Police rejected the request of the representationists for raising construction. The state of HP was directed on March 14, 2008 to convey, whether the permission to raise one storeyed building could be permitted or not. The Principal Secretary (Home), Government of HP, in that reference, sent a letter to the Secretary to the President of India on April 4, 2008 seeking permission/no objection for the construction of a house by the writ petitioner at Chharabra.
Thus, says Bhardwaj, The President of India’s Secretariat never gave an NOC. Due to ban of construction in this area, people were forced to sell their land at throw away prices. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra purchased about 4,000 Square Meters of land, which included the land of Commodore Devinderjeet Singh also. She was permitted to construct a huge house adjoining the same place, where commodore Devinderjeet Singh was earlier refused permission for security reasons.
He also claimed SPG protectee is not a permanent status and grant of building permission to Priyanka Vadra should be withdrawn he said.
Earlier to this, Priyanka Vadra’s property was caught up in an RTI tangle when an activist Devashish Bhattarchayra had sought details of permissions, which she had opposed. The Chief Information Commission (CIC) allowed RTI activist’s plea and directed DC Shimla to make the information public –an action later stayed by the High Court on her plea.