Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was on Wednesday summoned by an inquiry commission for his statements in an investigation into the grant of commercial land licenses to several private companies, including Skylight Hospitality, promoted by Robert Vadra, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law.
The Justice SN Dhingra Commission of Inquiry, set up in 2015, has asked Hooda to appear before it by March 23 to record his statements.
Last month, the Commission summoned Haryana chief secretary Deepinder Singh Dhesi and officials of the private firms for recording of statement.
The commission has earlier examined retired IAS officer and member of Union Public Service Commission Chattar Singh, who was the principal secretary in Hooda’s CMO.
The controversy surfaced in October, when anti-graft activist Arvind Kejriwal and his associates accused Vadra of corruption. That snow-balled into a political controversy ahead of key state assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Kejriwal alleged that Vadra, husband of Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka, purchased at least 31 properties mostly in New Delhi worth more than Rs.300 crore for which money has come from “unsecured interest-free loans from DLF Ltd”. Both Vadra and DLF denied the allegations. The main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded a probe into the matter.
A news round-up of the controversy so far:
16 August 2013
“ Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who has taken on Vadra for his controversial land deals in Gurgaon, admitted in a conversation with Karan Thapar on Devil’s Advocate that there is further investigation required to prove that Vadra falsified documents for the deals,” CNN-IBN news channel said in a report.
“He said that the evidence mentioned in the report submitted in the matter revealed that Vadra had only Rs.1 lakh in his account while a cheque for Rs.7.5 crore was issued from the same account for the deal. He questioned as to why Omkareshwar property, from whom Skylight hospitality bought the land, did not deposit the cheque if the transactions were at the arms length principal,” the report added.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Khemka said “that if all bureaucrats worked as “servants of the public,” corruption scandals like the 2G spectrum allocation or the coal block scam would not have happened,” the newspaper said in a report.
“I have a very sincere and firm belief that if bureaucrats were really public servants, there would have been no 2G or coal mine scam. Out of every 100 bureaucrats, 10 are always ready to join the queue (for favours) and it is enough if you pick up (your officer) from them,” the newspaper cited Khemka as saying.
15 August 2013
“Rao Inderjit Singh, a three-time Congress MP, four-time MLA and a former minister, has publicly demanded a detailed investigation into the 21,000-acres of land licensed for various uses in Haryana in the past eight years, including three acres that was part of the Vadra-DLF deal. Fearless of the political fallout, Singh has now told The Hindu that he can reveal many more names who have been involved in such illegal transactions,”The Hindu newspaper said in a report.
“An independent all-encompassing inquiry will widen the net, haul in big fish and ensure punishment for the guilty. I will take names when I have the evidence. And will use the evidence at a time of my choosing.” the newspaper cited Singh as saying.
14 August 2013
“Mocking the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law for creating a “unique business model through which hundreds of crores of rupees can be earned without making any investment,” senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha requested the government to honour him by starting a “Vadra School of Management”,” The Times of India reported.
“Not stopping at just that, Sinha even proposed that finance minister P. Chidambaram get himself an admission to the Vadra School of Management and learn a thing or two about how to generate huge profits without investing any money or resources. “He can apply this business model to resurrect the Indian economy and arrest the fall of the rupee,” Sinha said with a more-than-visible glint in the eye,” the newspaper report noted.
Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party leader and UP minister Azam Khan took a dig at Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday, saying no inquiry should be ordered against her son-in-law Robert Vadra since they enjoyed special privileges,” The Times of India said in another report. “Sonia Gandhi ke damaad ki jaanch hona bhi nahi chahiye …. akhir yeh unka haq hai” (There should be no inquiry against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law …. after all, it is their privilege),” Azam said, according to the report.
“Onkareshwar Properties Pvt. Ltd, the company that sold land in village Shikohpur in Haryana to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s company M/s Sky Light Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, has a record of links with politicians,” The Indian Expressnewspaper has said. “In fact, it was first owned by Govind (Kumar) Kanda. He is a member of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee and brother of Congress legislator Gopal Kanda who is in jail in Delhi on charges of abetment in the Geetika Sharma suicide case. Records with The Indian Express show that M/s Onkareshwar Properties Pvt. Ltd was constituted as a company on 28 September 2004 with two directors: Govind Kanda, a resident of Sirsa, and Pradeep Kumar, a resident of Gurgaon. Both owned 5,000 equity shares in the company which was registered in New Delhi,” the report further said.
Meanwhile, a top BJP leader “sat on Vadra files for months,” the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has alleged, CNN-IBN reports.
“Everyone in Delhi knew what Robert Vadra was upto. I should say here on record that the file came to Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal not from any hidden source but it was sitting in a BJP National leader’s table for several months and he didn’t have the courage to speak,” the news channel cited AAP leader Yogendra Yadav as saying.
13 August 2013
The Congress has ruled out any discussion on the issue of Robert Vadra’s land deals in Parliament, and has “dared Yashwant Sinha to move court after he sought a probe by Special Investigating Team into the matter,” a Press Trust of India report said.
Rejecting BJP’s demand that government give a reply in Parliament on the issue, Congress spokesperson Sandip Dikshit said, “He (Vadra) is an individual. Not a member of House. We do not discuss individuals in Parliament.”
“There are large number of forums in the country. They are welcome to go anywhere they like…. If he (Sinha) feels, he can go to the court. Nobody is stopping him or anybody else from either approaching the court or the government of Haryana,” Dikshit said, according to the report.
“CNN-IBN has found that the Haryana government probe appointed to inquire into Khemka’s charges has raised more questions than answers as Khemka was stonewalled at every step, not just by the state government but also by officers of his own cadre,” the news channel said in a report.
“CNN-IBN has now accessed documents which showed that none of the IAS officers that Khemka reached out to for information to prepare his report helped him out. IAS officer Y.S. Malik had denied Khemka’s information citing rules, to which Khemka wrote back saying he should be given the details to decide whether it is relevant or not. IAS officer S.S. Dhillon of the town and country planning department gave no information and said he was not aware of any inquiry report. Meanwhile, state chief secretary IAS officerP.K. Chaudhary said sharing of the information will harm the prestige of the premier administrative service,” the report further said.
“The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), the rival parties that are supporting the United Progressive Alliance from outside, came to the rescue of the Congress on Tuesday, as the main opposition attacked the ruling coalition over the allegations against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra,” Business Standard said in a news report.
“The SP and the BSP’s vocal support came as a big relief for the Congress, whose other allies such as the National Conference and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) did not defend either the government or Gandhi. No Congress minister spoke on the issue on record. On Monday, Congress member of Parliament Rao Inderjeet Singh, who is negotiating for entry into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had spoken up about Vadra,” the report went on to add.
“Aggressively taking on the issue of alleged land scams involving UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, the BJP on Tuesday demanded setting up of a Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT) to examine Vadra’s land deals across Congress-ruled states like Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan,” the Times of India said in a story on Monday.
“Our demand is that the SIT, which should be a multi-disciplinary authority to examine the alleged violation of the banking law, company law and income-tax law through these land deals, be set up and the probe monitored by the Supreme Court,” BJP leaderYashwant Sinha told reporters outside the Parliament, the newspaper report said.
“Congress MP from Gurgaon Rao Inderjit Singh was staring at expulsion from the party after he fanned allegations of the involvement of Robert Vadra,” The Times of India newspaper said in a report. “The incriminating comment was seen as Singh’s attempt to cause discomfiture to the party leadership,” the report added.
“Angry party sources attributed Singh’s outburst to what they called his pique that the Congress had given a free run to his bete-noire and chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, at the expense of his claims. They also said the MP was planning to leave the party, and that the attack on the Congress leadership was an attempt at “resume padding”,” the report further said.
“Crony capitalism needs a businessman and a helpful politician to pull it off. In the case of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, the friendly politician could well be Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Haryana chief minister,” says an opinion piece in Firstpost.com.
“The Hooda government’s role in helping Vadra make big money from real estate deals is not without precedent. One of the original crony capitalists in this country was Sanjay Gandhi, son of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. His business dream of making a low-priced car also depended on a friendly Haryana chief minister, Bansi Lal,” it goes on to say.
A report in The Economic Times newspaper has said that “Satyanand Yajee, director of Onkareshwar Properties, which sold 3.5 acre in Shikohpur village to Vadra’s Skylight Properties, is general secretary of the All India Freedom Fighters Organisation and is in charge of constructing and maintaining a memorial in the name of Hooda’s fatherChaudhary Ranbir Singh in Rohtak.”
“While the ruling Congress has accused Khemka of acting at the behest of BJP, the IAS officer has demanded an inquiry by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the role of the state government in facilitating the deals,” the report goes on to say.
“Ashok Khemka on Monday sought to clear the “erroneous impression” that he had personally shared with the media the allegations against Robert Vadra, saying that the charges were actually part of the report submitted by him to the Haryana government,” a Press Trust of India report said.
“Some reports appearing in a section of the media give the erroneous impression that the allegations are being made by me in person to the media. But the fact is that the statements form part of the official report submitted to the State Government by me on 21 May 2013,” Khemka, the secretary and director general of the state archives, said in a statement here,” according to the report.
“Meanwhile, main Opposition INLD today submitted a memorandum to governor Jagannath Pahadia demanding a judicial inquiry into the Vadra-DLF deal and other alleged land scams which have come to light under the Hooda government,” the report went on to say.
“Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal Monday sought a probe by a sitting Supreme Court Judge in all land deals of the Vadra family, especially in the Congress ruled states of Haryana and Rajasthan,” a news report in Zee News said.
“Badal said it was imperative for UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to come clean on this and order an enquiry by a sitting Supreme Court Judge to bring the truth to the fore,” the report added.
12 August 2013
“The BJP has decided to attack Congress president Sonia Gandhi directly over the alleged irregularities in land deals involving her son-in-law Robert Vadra, setting aside the party’s earlier inhibitions about specifically targeting the Gandhi family over corruption,” The Indian Express newspaper reported.
“It is reliably learnt that all senior BJP leaders, including BJP parliamentary party chief L.K. Advani, party president Rajnath Singh and leaders of opposition in both Houses are on board with the decision,” the report went on to say.
“A few voices in the party were against resorting to personal attacks, sources said, but the final decision was to press ahead and demand a high-level probe into the allegations, which have been around for some time now,” it further said.
Rao Inderjit Singh, the Lok Sabha member from Gurgaon, who belongs to the Congress party, has demanded “a thorough probe” into the land deals of Vadra, party chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, India Today has reported.
“The Haryana government is not transparent. A lot of shady deals have taken place and if Robert Vadra is guilty, then punish him. There has to be a thorough probe. The integrity of the chief minister (Bhupinder Singh Hooda) is in doubt,” Singh was quoted as having said in the report.
The Hindu says in a 10 August report that Ashok Khemka, even after he was removed from his position as the director-general, land holdings and land records, and inspector-general of registration, Haryana, has been digging deeper into Vadra’s land deals.
“The Corporation Bank cheque bearing number 607251 for Rs.7.5 crores, mentioned in sale deed no. 4928 of 12 February 2008, did not belong to Robert Vadra’s company, Skylight Hospitality. It is “likely that a fictitious cheque number was shown by the company with the full consent and knowledge of DLF to enable it to get legal title of land,” Mr. Khemka states in his submission to the Haryana government. This, because at the time of registering the sale deed, Skylight Hospitality did not have the money in its accounts to pay the Rs.7.95 crores needed for land cost and stamp duty on the deed. Because no money changed hands as stated in the registered sale deed, and the stamp duty of Rs.45 lakhs was also paid by Onkareshwar Properties and not Mr. Vadra’s company as stated in the deed, this amounts to making false statements punishable under Section 82 of the Registration Act, he states,” the report says.
“Consequently, in the balance sheets filed by the company as on 31 March 2008, the bank balance is wrongly shown as a book overdraft of Rs.7,94,00,000, because the cheque for Rs.7.5 crores was never presented, says he. Within two months of this, Mr. Vadra had entered into an agreement to sell the land to DLF for Rs.58 crores and began receiving the money in instalments, as advance. The first of these instalments came in June 2008 and Mr. Khemka states that “The payment to Onkareshwar Properties was made from the advance money that was received from DLF Universal.” In other words, Mr. Vadra’s company began receiving money into its accounts without investing any of its own funds to buy the land,” the report further notes, citing Khemka’s probe report.
Haryana rejects land reforms; Haryana Chief Minister denies wrongdoing; lawyer rubbishes Khemka report
In a story based on the report of the officer who was transferred for asking questions on the Vadra-DLF deal, Ashok Khemka, The Hindu said that the officer has alleged that the Haryana government rejected key reforms to curb ‘benami’ deals. The Hindi word ‘benami’ simply means ‘nameless.’
“In chapters four and five of his reply to the committee, Mr. Khemka says: ‘A small but powerful lobby of politicians and bureaucrats having [a] vested interest in panchayat lands succeeded in stifling a good legislative reform that would have helped prevent misappropriation of panchayat lands in the future.’ The committee, set up by the Haryana government to look into Khemka’s October allegations was asked to “look into this issue too, but chose to ignore it completely,” the newspaper report says.
“During his 80-day tenure in the land records office, Mr. Khemka had unearthed several land scams—particularly in Gurgaon and Faridabad—in which valuable panchayat and forest lands were being usurped by powerful land sharks with the apparent complicity of the authorities by misusing the provision of the Consolidation Act. Citing examples, his reply lists several modes of abuse of consolidation proceedings with the aim of grabbing panchayat lands. Common hilly and forest lands in the Aravalis are getting fragmented and privatized in the name of consolidation, and panchayat land in ‘prime properties of Faridabad was partitioned to favour a few VVIPs,’ he notes,” the report adds.
Meanwhile, Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said that his government had not “lent any support to any individual or company on illegal grounds” according to a report in the Hindustan Times. State chief secretary Pradeep Kumar Chaudhery told the newspaper that the state government would examine Khemka’s reply. “We want to be fair to him and also be responsible in coming to a conclusion on the findings drawn by the committee.”, the report went on to say.
And lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi dismissed as “high on rhetoric and low on facts” IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s “voluminous reply,” the Press Trust of India said in a report.
“Haryana minister Randeep Singh Surjewalaalso sought to reject Khemka’s reply terming it ‘cacophony of allegations and sensationalisation by vested interests’,” the report further said.
11 August 2013
Khemka says he acted in public interest
The Hindu, again quoting Khemka’s report, has said that according to the bureaucrat, he acted against Vadra after being transferred from his position only so that he would not betray public trust. Khemka was director-general, Land Holdings and Land Records, and Inspector-General of Registration, Haryana, until he was transferred soon after he started investigating the deal.
“In his detailed reply to these allegations, Mr. Khemka has said that ‘leaving charge without passing these orders would have been an act of cowardice and betrayal of public trust…. And to abdicate the responsibility just because VVIPs are involved in the sham transaction would amount to dereliction of duty’,” the newspaper report says.
“Mr. Khemka’s repeated queries, asking the committee to provide him with any representation or appeal that might have been received from Mr. Vadra or his company, Skylight Hospitality, DLF Universal Ltd or Onkareshwar Properties against the cancellation of their land mutation, met with no response. He notes: ‘When Mr. Vadra was not ostensibly aggrieved with the inquiry, why and how are some functionaries in the state government aggrieved instead? Is the same yardstick applied for an ordinary citizen?’,” it goes on to say.
10 August 2013
Vadra used “falsified documents”
The Hindu, citing an investigation report, said that Vadra used “falsified documents” and “sham transactions” to “collect premium on land deals.”
“Ashok Khemka, the Haryana IAS officer who cancelled a land deal mutation between Robert Vadra and real estate giant DLF Universal Ltd last October, has told the Haryana government that Mr. Vadra falsified documents and executed a series of sham transactions for 3.53 acres land in Shikohpur village of Gurgaon, thereby pocketing a hefty premium on a commercial colony license through money that he could account for,” the newspaper report said. “He has made these assertions in a 100-page reply to a report of a three-member enquiry committee set up by the Haryana government last October to look into the Vadra-DLF deal. The committee had indicted Mr. Khemka for cancelling the deal. Mr. Khemka’s reply, submitted on 21 May and accessed by The Hindu, has been put together with the help of publicly available documents and his own findings, after the government stonewalled his efforts to get the official documents concerning the sale, issue and transfer of the license to DLF,” it added.
“Mr. Khemka states that both the sale deed of February 12, 2008—through which Mr. Vadra’s company, Skylight Hospitality, bought the land from Onkareshwar Properties—and the letter of intent for granting a commercial licence to his company issued by the DTCP in March 2008 are sham transactions, executed only to enable Mr. Vadra to collect market premium accruing to him due to state largesse,” the report said.
26 October 2012
“Haryana’s deputy commissioners have found no irregularities in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s land deals. A panel of four Deputy Commissioners has given Vadra’s deals a clean chit. Four Haryana deputy commissioners conducted inquiries into Vadra’s deals after IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s order, dated October 12,” CNN-IBN said in a report.
In an opinion piece, Firstpost.com has compared Vadra to Nitin Gadkari and has said the former is better off considering no probe was ordered into his business dealings despite the fact that they were all in public domain.
“What is interesting here is that Vadra’s dealings with DLF are also in the public domain and the news was all coming in the newspapers, as Moily put it in Gadkari’s context. That being the case, shouldn’t Moily have ordered a “discreet inquiry” against Vadra as well?,” the piece asks.
“The investigative mills of the government grind slowly – but only when allegations of corruption are levelled against one of its own. When the charges relate to a leader of the principal Opposition party, the same leaden-footed investigative agencies begin to show extraraordinary agility and earnestness of purpose. Witness the alacrity with which a whole battery of investigative agencies and regulators – from the Income Tax Department to the Registrar of Companies – have responded to the ongoing revelations into the web of deceit that BJP president Nitin Gadkari wove. The daily drip-drip of media investigations into Gadkari’s maze of companies and their shadowy transactions with contractors clearly establish a dubious relationship that thrives at the intersection of business and politics, from which both parties derive unjust benefits,” Firstpost.com notes in another opinion piece.
“Haryana’s whistleblower IAS officer Ashok Khemka on Tuesday said the committee set up to probe his order on Robert Vadra-DLF land deal could be an “eyewash”. He also lashed out at his fellow IAS officers, who, according to Khemka, have become “greater than god”,” The Times of India said in a report.
23 October 2012
“After maintaining a brief silence over the probe he launched into a plot of land acquired by a Robert Vadra-owned company, IAS officer Ashok Khemka has said the three-member committee formed by the Haryana government was in violation of a high court order,” Firstpost.com reported.
“According to Khemka, the IAS officials do not have the jurisdiction to probe the orders that were passed by him and was merely a cover up,” the report added.
“The BJP has said that its president, Nitin Gadkari, is willing to accept and cooperate with “any sort of inquiry” into allegations of dubious funding for his business, Purti Power and Sugar. However, the Opposition party says there has to be a level playing field for investigations centred on politicians who are accused of graft. The Congress, it said, is protecting its own,” NDTV news channel said in a report.
“Unlike the Congress, our president has said he is open to any inquiry,” said BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday. She compared this response to the case of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra, who has been accused of accepting sweetheart deals from real estate giant DLF. In exchange, the Congress government in Haryana allegedly did favours that promoted DLF’s vast business interests in the state. Mr Vadra, DLF and the Haryana government have refuted the charges. A series of senior cabinet ministers enthusiastically defended Mr Vadra -a point of much criticism among the opposition, the media and the activists headed by Arvind Kejriwal, who has launched a new political party and “outed” Mr Vadra’s DLF connection by releasing documents about their transactions at two different press conferences,” the NDTV report said.
22 October 2012
“Even as the Haryana government formed a three-member committee to probe into the charges levelled by whistleblower IAS officer Ashok Khemka against Robert Vadra-DLF land deal in Gurgaon, the state government has shied away from naming either ‘Vadra’ or ‘DLF’ in the order,” The Times of India said in a report.
“… the government order announcing the setting up of the probe committee just gave the numbers of the two Khemka orders and instructed the panel to conduct an inquiry into it without naming ‘Vadra’ and ‘DLF’,” the report further said.
“The India Against Corruption (IAC) has done a gutsy and commendable job in bringing these findings to the forefront. Vadra’s shady dealings were common gossip in banking circles for years. The media knew it well too. However, it is the IAC that crystallized the outrage, presented some documents and made it a topic of household discussion,” author Chetan Bhagat has said in an opinion piece in The Times of India.
“IAC’s next move, however, demanding an independent investigation into Vadra, is probably going to disappoint them. Firstly, a fair and independent investigation is nearly impossible in India against the Gandhi family, especially when they are in power. Second, and more important, is even if a fair investigation is conducted, there may not be much illegality in what Vadra did (ignoring the charges of fraudulent financial statement, as alleged in some news reports). After all, Vadra made a friend in DLF, and DLF helped Vadra out.
That’s all the paper trail may reveal, despite exhaustive investigations. In fact, when powerful people help each other, they are smart enough to keep the paper trail sacrosanct. Expensive lawyers and CAs work hard to ensure the deals have a semblance of legality, whatever the intent. Proving quid-pro-quo is going to be even more difficult. A company like DLF has a vast presence. It needs the government to cooperate with it in hundreds of places. DLF does not need to do a quid pro quo or transactional help. It would rather do favors and make friends in the government. Favours, as the eponymous character in the novel The Godfather would say, that could be utilized at a later date in the form of return favours,” Bhagat goes on to say.
Journalist Manoj Joshi has said in an opinion piece that the “code of collusion” between politicians is “breaking down.”
“Living as we do in the age of reverse swing, we may be upon a new era when the old rules that bound the Indian elite in a culture of complicity may be getting over. This seems to be the takeaway from the charges that are being levelled at Robert Vadra, businessman and son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi,” Joshi says in an opinion piece in Daily Mail.
“The great change that is occurring now promises to transform the Indian polity because at its root is the urge towards democratisation. There is a markedly increased assertion of the underclass – defined by caste, economic level or even gender. There is an aspiration of all Indians to get ahead and improve their station in life and prosper. In this perspective corruption and malfeasance by the political class and the bureaucracy are seen as attempts to hold back people from what is legitimately theirs. The key factors amplifying the trend are the growth of literacy and what are called Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). In India they are manifested by the wide penetration of the mobile phone, newspapers and the television across the country,” he goes on to say.
“Chicanery in land deals was not the only interesting takeaway from the controversy surrounding the association between real estate major DLF and Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. L’affaire Vadra also exposed government highhandedness against officers doing their job,” an opinion piece in The Economic Times says.
“The Haryana government shunted out IAS officer Ashok Khemka for launching a probe into Vadra-DLF deals. He revealed soon after that he has been transferred more than 40 times in 20 years of service. Is that legal? Khemka has challenged the transfer, citing the IAS (Fixation of Cadre Strength) Regulations, 2010. The rule guarantees a fixed tenure of two years for officers. But here is the catch: the rule is not implemented by half of Indian states. Even in states like Haryana which have technically adopted it, the central government has not monitored its implementation,” the piece goes on to say.