Bail to Hooda but worries far from over

hooda rajendraA special CBI court in Haryana has granted bail to former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the `1,500 crore Manesar land scam but his worries are far from over. Though he puts up a brave face and told mediapersons in Chandigarh that it is vendetta. The case appears to be far too serious.

The veteran Congress leader is embroiled in three CBI cases, including the Manesar land scam, Panchkula Industrial Plot scam and Associated Journal Limited (AJL) plot re-allotment scam. There are other cases as well. All these cases are of very serious nature and have the potential to put him behind bars if the court finds him guilty.

However, Haryana Congress Spokesman Rann Singh Mann says BJP governments, whether in states or at the Centre are known for witch hunt against all political opponents. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, being one of the strongest leaders in Haryana, has become a victim of the BJP’s political vendetta. “We have full faith on judiciary and we know it will be fair in this case as well. Hooda is a veteran leader and is not going to be cowed down by such vindictive threats,” says Mann.

But that’s easier said than done. In the Manesar case, the Supreme Court recently set aside the August 24, 2007, order of Bhupinder Singh Hooda led Congress government in Haryana to drop land acquisition proceedings against private builders in Manesar. Allegations are that hundreds of acres of land was acquired from farmers of Manesar and adjoining villages in Gurgaon district at a low cost for public purpose when Bhupinder Singh Hooda was chief Minister of Haryana from 2005 to 2014. But later the same land was sold to real estate companies at a much lower price causing huge losses to the state.

When the Congress was in power in Haryana under Hooda and UPA at the centre everything was fine. But once the NDA came to power, questions began to be asked why were the colonizers given out of turn favours and concessions. Haryana’s BJP government under Manohar Lal then ordered CBI enquiries in Manesar land scam in September 2015.

The CBI case is bound to spell deep trouble for the former chief minister of Haryana. With Haryana assembly elections scheduled to be held next year, Hooda’s conviction may possibly put an end to his political career.

Hooda is not just haunted by the Manesar land scam. Panchkula industrial plot allotment scam also stares at him in the face. In this case industrial plots were given to 14 people by allegedly manipulating some provisions of allotment.

These included allowing the applicants to submit their applications even after the last date of submitting them. Later a FIR was filed in the case which alleged that even ineligible applicant were allotted plots by the Hooda government at lower rates than the prevailing market prices. This again caused huge loss to the exchequer.

Since Bhupinder Singh Hooda was also the chairman of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), he too booked in the case. According to sources, the CBI has almost completed its probe in Panchkula Industrial Plot Allotment scam. Chargesheet is likely to be filed soon.

Another case staring Hooda in the face is AJL plot allotment issue. Here the allegation is that an industrial plot in Panchkula was re-allotted illegally to the Associated Journal Ltd (AJL) which runs the National Herald newspaper.

As is well known, AJL is reportedly controlled by senior Congress leaders of the Gandhi family through Young India Limited. Incidentally, the Young India Ltd. had been founded by late Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Hooda is alleged to have overlooked the advice of even the Haryana Legal Remembrancer to re-advertise the plot which was later re-allotted to AJL in the year 2005 as soon as Hooda came to power in Haryana. The re-allotment of plot was not just illegal, but again caused huge loss to the state exchequer.

The piece of land involving AJL was acquired by the company for 59.3 lakh while its market value at that point was close to 23 crore. Incidentally Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had allotted land measuring 3,363 square metres to the National Herald (AJL) in a prime locality, Sector 6 of Panchkula, for a mere 59.3 lakh.

The market price of the piece of land at that time was around 23 crore. All rules seem to have been flouted in the allotment, according to Ram Bilas Sharma, Haryana’s Education minister.

In the AJL case, Hooda is facing money laundering charges in plot allotment. In the year 2017 the CBI registered a FIR in the case. Both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate are probing the case now.

As if all these cases were not enough to tie down Hooda, the present BJP government under Manohar Lal Khattar recently ordered handing over two more alleged land scams of his home constituency Rohtak and Sonepat to the CBI for investigation. The alleged land scams reportedly took place during Hooda’s regime. In this case acquired land from the farmers was released to private builders to
develop a colony.

Noticing Hooda’s discomfiture two other Haryana Congress leaders of Haryana have started making their presence felt more in public. MLA and AICC media spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala is reported to be eying to fill the possible vacancy created by Hooda in case he gets convicted in near future.

Haryana assembly elections may be one and a half years away, but sources say Surjewala is trying to establish himself as the tallest Jat leader in Haryana to wrest initiative from both Hooda and Leader of opposition Abhay Singh Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

Surjewala is holding regular public rallies, at least twice a week. He has a good following in the state and manages massive crowds like Hooda and Abhay Chautala.

In the last few months Surjewala has held as many as 56 public rallies in different districts of the state. He is reported to have drawn good crowd response as well in his rallies.

At present Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s hold on the Haryana Congress is unshakeable. Majority of the party MLAs support him except HPCC president Dr Ashok Tanwar and CLP leader Kiran Choudhry. But in the case of his conviction the Congress will need another leader to rally around. Perhaps Randeep Surjewala could be that leader.

Similarly INLD’s Abhay Chautala has been holding rallies in the name of getting SYL canal water for Haryana. Last year Chautala even courted arrest when he tried to forcibly enter Punjab to dig the SYL canal with the help of his party supporters. Chautala knows that water is a very emotional issue and people can be rallied in the name of SYL canal water.