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With the CBI registering a case against the former CM of Haryana for his irregular allotment of land to AJL, has his generosity to his party bosses done him in? And will Sonia Gandhi and Rahul also be summoned?

 ~By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, well-known for his generosity in doling out favours and giving permissions for dubious land deals, is finding himself in the dock after the CBI registered an FIR against him earlier this month for irregularities in allotment of land to Associate Journals Limited (AJL).

The registration of the FIR assumes greater significance because AJL is owned by Young India which, in turn, is being run by the Gandhi family. AJL is the publisher of National Herald, the paper founded by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It has always been considered the official newspaper of the Congress.

Former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Photo: UNI
Former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Photo: UNI

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who emerged as the dark horse after the BJP secured its first-ever victory in the state, had declared that he would get all such permissions and deals probed. This one pertaining to the AJL would put not only Hooda in the dock for blatant disregard to rules but would also cast a shadow on the top leadership of the Congress. It would be no surprise if the investigating agency as well as the courts summon Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi in connection with the case.

CLEARED IN A HURRY

After Hooda was made the chief minister of Haryana in 2005, overlooking the claims of Congress’ old war horse Bhajan Lal, he took little time in summoning the file pertaining to the cancellation of a plot of land which was allotted to AJL. Evidently this was done at the bidding of his party high command and it was the least he could do to express his gratitude.

Yet the blatant manner in which it was done and in double quick time, has few parallels in government “efficiency”. All permissions and files were cleared within a day. He did it in his capacity as chairman of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA). And to make it clear, Hooda has not been booked by name but as the then chairman of HUDA.

Shady deals

Powerful influencers, including CMs have often used their discretionary powers to allot or acquire property, pushing the legal envelope as also acquiring immense property and wealth for themselves and family. Here are some:

Mayawati’s pink elephants: The former UP CM installed pink elephant statues and other stone memorials amounting to a Rs 5,000 crore scam. The cost of land included, says former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav, would make it a Rs 40,000 crore scam.

Akshardham Temple: Delhi’s Akshardham temple was built on 30 acres of the ecologically sensitive Yamuna bank. It was given to the Bochasanwasi Sri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) at the behest of senior BJP leaders. Law says a temple can be allotted only 400 sq m. The no-construction zone was changed to an “O” zone in the 2001 master plan. In “O” zones public and semi-public constructions can come up.

Yeddyurappa gave land to sons: Former Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa allotted a plot of government land to a private company owned by his two sons. Yeddyurappa was arrested during the BJP government and BJP’s top leadership forced him to resign.

Adarsh Housing Society scam: Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan was implicated in this scam where proposed six-storey structures meant to house Kargil martyrs’ widows went up to 31 storeys and flats were virtually given away—each at a loss of over Rs 5 crore to the exchequer—to 103 bureaucrats and politicians, including Chavan’s relatives.

The Emaar scam: Andhra Pradesh’s Principle Home Secretary BP Acharya, then also MD of Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC), went to jail for letting Dubai-based real estate giant Emaar Properties, who had a deal with APIIC, walk away with Rs 2,500 crore illegitimate profits from a joint land development deal.

ALLOTMENT CANCELLED

The allotment of the plot—measuring 3,500 sq m in the prime Sector 6 of Panchkula—dates back to 1982. Then chief minister Bhajan Lal, known for his political astuteness (he became a Congress CM after defecting from the Janata Party), had made the initial allotment. The building which was supposed to house the office of the National Herald was to be completed in two years. However, nothing moved on the ground, and HUDA subsequently cancelled the allotment in 1992. Even the earnest money it had deposited was returned to it after standard deduction of 10 percent.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi arriving at AICC after getting bail from the Patiala House courts in the National Herald case in New Delhi. Photo: UNI
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi arriving at AICC after getting bail from the Patiala House courts in the National Herald case in New Delhi. Photo: UNI

Former union defence minister Bansi Lal, who had parted ways with the Congress to form his own party and wrested power in the state, declined AJL’s request to re-allot the plot of land in 1998. The issue was put in cold storage till Hooda became chief minister in 2005. Interestingly, he disregarded all advice from the legal department as well as senior officers of the HUDA and took it upon himself personally to sign the file restoring the plot of land to AJL.

It was done despite the fact that the then Legal Remembrancer, the top legal adviser to the state government, had stated on record a few days ago that the revision petition of the owners against the cancellation of the plot had been dismissed and the “order of resumption (of the plot) has attained finality”. He had stated on the file that there was no question of “re-allotment or restoration of the plot to the allottee” under the circumstances. Even other senior officers of the HUDA, including its then chief administrator SS Dhillon, had advised him against re-allotment. A senior IAS officer, Dhillon has expressed surprise over inclusion of his name in the FIR, along with two other IAS officers, Vinit Garg and Shakuntala Jakhu (now retired). As in the case of Hooda, these officers have been booked as per their designations and not by name.

DISREGARDING ADVICE

Hooda wrote on the file that since the allottee has requested and explained circumstances under which the construction could not be started on the plot, it was “a fit case for grant of further extention in time for construction”. He went on to write that the “AJL is a renowned organisation founded by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru” and that publication of the newspaper “would add yet another feature to the prestigious town of Panchkula”.

Although he had specified that the construction of the building should be completed in two years, it took another decade to be completed. It was issued completion certificate two months before the elections in 2014 in which the Hooda government was over-thrown.

While Hooda has taken the plea that there were no irregularities and that the BJP government was indulging in “political vendetta”, Haryana Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma has alleged that the market price of the plot was Rs 23 crore when it was allotted in 2005 but it was restored to the AJL for a mere Rs 59 lakh. Hooda would certainly find it difficult to justify his decision.

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