THE ENFORCEMENT Directorate (ED) has attached a plot of land in Haryana’s Panchkula allotted to Associate Journals Ltd (AJL), accusing the company of having acquired it “fraudulently”.
AJL publishes the National Herald newspaper and the plot was allotted to the company by Haryana’s former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The Congress leader is an accused in the money laundering case registered by the agency in the case.
“AJL, after acquisition of the said plot, projected it as untainted property and further acquired loans from the bank by way of mortgaging the same from time to time. Since the value of the plot fraudulently allotted to AJL has represented proceeds of crime, the ED has attached the plot under PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act),” an ED statement said Monday.
The provisional attachment orders for the plot — Plot No. C-17 — measuring over 3,300 sq m in Sector 6 of Panchkula, Haryana, were issued on December 1.
Hooda has termed the case against him as “political vendetta” and claimed that there was no wrongdoing. The CBI had registered an FIR in the case in April 2017 and filed a chargesheet last week. The ED case of July 2016 is based on a Haryana vigilance department FIR of May 2016.
According to ED sources, Hooda, as ex-officio chairman of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), allegedly caused a loss of Rs 65 lakh to the exchequer by granting the land to AJL in contravention of rules and against the advice of his officers. Sources said the discrepancies had also been flagged in a state audit report.
ED sources said the transaction is related to a Hindi newspaper, ‘Navjeevan’, brought out by AJL, and dates back to 1982. In that year, the newspaper was allotted the plot by the Haryana government under the condition that AJL would complete construction within two years. “At that time, the plot was bought for Rs 57 lakh,” said an ED official.
However, the allotment was cancelled in 1992 on the grounds that AJL did not begin construction for years. In 1995, AJL’s appeal against the cancellation was rejected. “AJL was returned its money after deducting 10 per cent as penalty,” said the ED official.
“As AJL did not comply with the terms and conditions of the allotment, the Estate Officer, HUDA, Panchkula vide order dated 30.10.1992 ordered to resume the said plot… Against this order, AJL filed an appeal before the Chief Administrator, HUDA and the Appellate Authority dismissed the appeal on 03.01.1995. Against this order, AJL preferred a Revision Application before the Commissioner and Secretary to Government Haryana, Town and Country Planning Department, Haryana, (TCP) who also dismissed the same on 10.10.1996. After the dismissal of the revision petition, the Resumption Order attained finality,” the ED statement said.
In 1998, the company’s appeal to the CM’s office was rejected by the then Bansi Lal government. In 2005, after the Hooda government took charge, AJL lodged another appeal. In the appeal, Congress leader Motilal Vora also requested that the land be re-allotted to AJL at the 1982 rates.
In its statement, ED has claimed that the Haryana government’s Legal Remembrance and “officers of the HUDA and TCP (Town and Country Planning) who were dealing with the matter also advised the then CM” against the allotment and opined that the plot be “re-advertised”.
“However, Sh. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the then CM, Haryana misused his official position by dishonestly and fraudulently allotting the said plot to AJL, afresh in the guise of re-allotment, at the rates prevalent in the year 1982 plus interest (i.e. @ Rs. 91 per sq mtr), despite the fact that the cancellation of allotment of the plot to AJL earlier had already attained finality and it could not legally be re-allotted,” the statement said.
“Therefore, fresh allotment of the said plot to AJL in the year 2005 at the rate prevailing in the year 1982 unjustly benefitted AJL,” it said.
According to ED, AJL did not begin construction in the newly stipulated time and was allegedly “granted undue extensions thrice” by Hooda. It said that AJL completed construction only in 2013, when ‘Navjeevan’ had ceased to exist.
The state vigilance bureau had registered a case of cheating and corruption against Hooda and four officials who were in HUDA for allegedly re-allotting the plot to AJL.