Soup of trouble for Bhupinder Singh Hooda

Haryana ex-CM Hooda’s well known generosity in doling out favours in land deals is coming back to haunt him and the Congress as the Parliament and state Assembly elections are just a few months away

Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the former chief minister of Haryana, is facing half a dozen major investigations involving hundreds of land deals during his regime, but the latest to hit him and the party relates to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, could be the ‘brahamshastra’ that the BJP had held back for the ensuing elections.

The facts of the case are that Vadra’s company, Skylight Hospitality, had purchased about 3.5 acres of land in village Shikohpur near Manesar from Onkareshwar Properties for about 7.5 crore in 2008, a few months after the formation of Hooda government. Significantly the cheque of 7.5 crore given by Skylight Hospitality was never encashed by Onkareshwar Properties and there was obviously an understanding between the two parties.

It was agriculture land and there was nothing else one could do with the land. There lies the key to the issue or ‘scam’. Vadra, evidently using his clout and connections with Hooda, was able to secure a Change of Land Use (CLU) permission for the land from agricultural land to land for commercial and residential purposes. The grant of permission skyrocketed the price of the land.

The Company sold the same land, a few months later, to the real estate giant DLF at a whopping 58 crore. Skylight Hospitality thus made over 50 crore within the space of a few months.

The alleged irregularities in the deal were also brought out by the well-known IAS officer Ashok Khemka who had even cancelled the mutation of the land. That was done when Hooda was the chief minister. However the mutation was restored and Khemka sent out of the department concerned in yet another transfer. Even the Comptroller and Auditor  General Haryana had questioned irregularities in the case but the Khattar Government preferred to soft paddle the issue.

While these facts and figures had been in the public domain for nearly a decade, the Manohar Lal Khattar BJP government preferred to sleep over it since it came to office four years ago. The BJP had gone to town to expose nepotism and corruption by the Hooda administration during the campaign for the 2014 elections and had promised to institute an inquiry to nail the guilty.

Vadra has been of course denying any wrong doing and saying that it was a clean business deal. He had been challenging the government to investigate the allegations but the government had been shying away from doing so.

Now, suddenly, with a few months left for elections, the government has found a complainant in the case. It took little time in lodging an FIR against Vadra, Sonia Gandhi, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the DLF and Onkareshwar properties under sections 420 (cheating), 467, 468 and 471 (forgery) of the IPC and Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The complaint was lodged by a little known owner of a medical shop in Gurugram. The complainant, Surender Sharma, is a resident of village Rathivas in Nuh district of Haryana and owns about 10 acres of land.

Sharma has alleged in his complaint that the “accused conspired with influential builders, ministers and top government officers (who) misused their positions and committed a scam worth 5,000 crore”. Little is known as to how he calculated that figure but he asserted that Vadra and Hooda also helped DLF in other ways such as “wrongful” allotment of 350 acres of land near Wazirabad.

But even though the BJP had made a big deal about the CLU granted to Robert Vadra, and had threatened to cancel it, the Khattar Government had been accepting the licence fee from the DLF for the land under question. It has over the last two years accepted 91.84 lakh to renew the commercial license of the controversial land.

The DLF deposited the fee in November 2016. This was in addition to 12.74 crore paid up to July 2014

Significantly, Skylight Hospitality ceased to be a private company in 2015 and was incorporated as Limited Liability Partnership in May 2016.

While this is the latest land deal case taken up by the Khattar Government involving Hooda, the former chief minister is facing several more cases which are likely to keep him tied down during the elections next year.

One of these cases pertains to hundreds of farmers getting deprived of their land in Gurugram in 2005 simply because Hooda as the chief minister had withdrawn a notification issue earlier under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act. Under the notification the government expresses its intent of compulsorily acquiring land for public use. Invariably such a notification cases panic as the governments had been paying a measly amount as compensation and that too after a prolonged period. It was at that stage that land sharks purchase land at throwaway price. But once the notification was withdrawn, the value of the land went up manyfolds.

Of the 912 acres of land notified for acquisition for Manesar Industrial Township, over 400 acres was sold in distress sale. The issue of notification and its withdrawal took just 22 days and that’s when an estimated 400 acres was sold by farmers and suffering loss of crores of rupees. Had they not sold their land on distress and had subsequently obtained CLUs, they would have become millionaires.

The CBI has now filed a chargesheet against Hooda and 33 others including senior bureaucrats. Besides 22 real estate companies have also been made a party. They have been charged under sections 420, 465, 467, 468, 471 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code and under the Prevention of Corruption Act,1988.

In another case, the CBI has registered an FIR against Hooda and others for allotting 14 prized industrial plots in Panchkula to his favourites. The allotments were made in an arbitrary manner.

Yet another case again involves Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and several senior leaders of the Congress. It pertains to the grant of prime land to National Herald, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru, in the heart of Panchkula. Documents suggest that the allotment was cancelled due to non-payment for a long period but Hooda violated all rules to restore the land at a highly concessional rate.

With all these cases being investigated by various agencies like the Vigilance Bureau, the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax, Hooda is likely to remain tied down to defend himself and his government. The latest one involving Robert Vadra may, however, hit his party the hardest.