Chandigarh, April 6 (IANS) The controversial lease of over five acres of prime land near Delhi suburb Gurgaon for a super-specialty eye hospital to be set up by the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) continues to haunt Haryana's Bhupinder Singh Hooda government.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), who had found major irregularities in the release of the land to the RGCT, has rejected submissions made by Haryana's Town and Country Planning (TCP) department justifying the release of land and allowing change of land use (CLU) for setting up the facility.
The land in question is located in a demarcated residential area falling under Gurgaon's sectors 58 to 63.
The RGCT trustees include powerful people like Congress president and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, the party vice president. The Congress is in power in Haryana.
"The principal secretary of the TCP department stated during the exit conference that the land was released in favour of the owner of the land (in this case the gram panchayat or village council of Ullahwas) and the CLU was granted in favour of the trust as per the policy of the department. This contention has been rejected," Onkar Nath, Haryana's Principal Accountant General (Audit), told IANS.
He said the TCP was given full opportunity to respond to the audit objections through the exit conference before the CAG report was finalised.
"The contention of the principal secretary was not in order as the gram panchayat (GP) had leased after issue of notification under section 4 which was against the provisions of the (Land acquisition) Act as the owners cannot create any encumbrance on the land after the issue of the notification," the CAG report said.
"The GP, which was the owner of the land, had not approached the government for the release of the land at any stage; the government changed the relevant rules on Nov 8, 2010, whereas the application of the Trust was made on Oct 20, 2010; the department granted CLU for establishing an eye hospital by the Trust in violation of its development plan as the area was demarcated as a residential area," the report pointed out.
The CAG report also questioned the lack of transparency by the village council in leasing out the prime land. The land was straightaway offered to and given to the RGCT.
The Hooda government, which is in its second term, had gone out of the way to accommodate the land lease for RGCT in 2009 and 2010, records show.
Cornered on the issue in Aug 2011, Hooda had told the Haryana assembly: "The action of the government with regard to the grant of lease of land to RGCT is in public interest and in accordance with the law of the land."
"There is no irregularity whatsoever in lease of this land and the same has been done in accordance with the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act and the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules framed thereunder," Hooda said, defending his government's actions.
The opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) is however unwilling to buy Hooda's theory.
Seeking a probe, a senior INLD leader said: "If the RGCT had social service in mind, it should have gone to backward areas of Mewat or Sirsa to serve people. It should not have chosen the most expensive address in Haryana (Gurgaon) to set up the eye hospital."
In Aug 2011, the Gurgaon district authorities had suspended two junior revenue officials for "concealing facts" that private land was part of the land acquisition initiated in Ullahwas village.
This is not the first time there has been a Congress link to a controversial land deal in Gurgaon.
Last October, senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka had ordered a scrutiny of land deals of Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra and cancelled the mutation of a multi-crore-rupee land deal between Vadra's company Sky Light Hospitality and realty giant DLF. He also ordered a probe into all land deals done by Vadra and his companies in Haryana's Gurgaon, Faridabad, Mewat and Palwal districts since 2005.
After Khemka's action Oct 8, the Hooda government went into an overdrive and within days, the authorities of the four districts gave a "clean chit" to the land deals.
The Hooda government set up a committee to look into the action taken by Khemka. The committee held that Khemka's actions as director-general of land consolidation were not in accordance with laid down procedures.
Khemka questioned the rationale of the committee in submitting its report without even seeking his views on the action taken in the land deals.
Khemka was removed from his post Oct 11, with the government projecting it as a routine transfer. He was shifted as managing director of the Haryana Seeds Development Corp (HSDC), from where he was moved Thursday to the inconsequential post of secretary of Haryana Archives.
Khemka has been transferred almost 45 times in his two-decade-long career as an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)