Haryana panel castigates him for cancelling mutation of land sold to DLF; government stonewalls info sought by IAS officer

A three-member committee formed by the Haryana government in October last to examine the orders of Ashok Khemka, then Director-General, Land Consolidation and Land Records, cancelling mutation of land sold by Robert Vadra to DLF Universal Ltd, has severely indicted the official for taking this action. The committee, which did not offer him an opportunity to present his defence, has sought Mr. Khemka’s comments on its report, even as the government is stonewalling information on the Vadra land deal, sought by him to give his response.

Headed by Financial Commissioner (Revenue) Krishan Mohan, the committee, one of whose members is K.K. Jalan — who led the Town and Country Planning department when the licence of Mr. Vadra’s Skylight Hospitality was renewed in January 2011 — has concluded that the orders passed by Mr. Khemka are “without jurisdiction, inappropriate and not covered under any provisions of any statute or rules.” It has also observed that the IAS officer’s October 15 order is administratively improper because since he had already been transferred out on October 11, he should not have “passed such an important quasi-judicial order.”

Excludes other scams

The panel has restricted its enquiry to the Vadra deal and its cancellation by Mr. Khemka and excluded all other aspects of land-related scams in Haryana as reported by the official. He had referred not just to the Vadra deal but also to the politician-bureaucratic nexus in transfer of panchayat lands to realtor companies, illegal sale/purchase of specific khasra numbers of village common lands and illegal possession of panchayat lands and sale of forest land in his October 12 letter to Chief Secretary P.K. Chaudhary, on which the latter ordered the enquiry.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Khemka said: “The inquiry committee has determined its own terms of reference to exclude all other aspects. Its objective seems to be to give a clean chit to the Vadra-DLF transactions, resulting in a windfall gain of Rs. 50 crore to Mr. Vadra.”

One of the grounds why Mr. Khemka set aside the Vadra mutation was the assistant consolidation officer (ACO) who had cleared the process was not competent to do so, as he does not have the powers of Assistant Collector of second grade under the Punjab Land Revenue Act 1887. The committee, while admitting that the government has not authorised the ACO with the powers to sanction the mutation, has held that between 1990 and 2012 roughly 1,000 transactions were recorded at Shikohpur village by the ACO and none has been contested or cancelled on the grounds of jurisdiction and powers of the ACO except the Vadra–DLF mutation. Since the revenue records are in the possession of these officials, none except them could have updated the records. The committee has accused Mr. Khemka of being selective in this case and passed strictures on him for not seeking legal advice before cancelling the mutation. However, Mr. Khemka said, “Mere practice does not confer jurisdiction upon the ACO.”

“Though the committee has indicted me for not seeking legal advice, it also did not seek any legal opinion on its strange ruling that practice confers jurisdiction. Mr. Vadra seems to be destroying institutions.” On the committee’s charge of his being selective about the Vadra land deal, Mr. Khemka said a similar matter was pending in the High Court which was looking at whether the ACO was Assistant Collector second grade and therefore competent to sanction mutations. “It is odd that despite this being sub judice, the committee has chosen to give its ruling and not followed the principles of natural justice.”

Earlier this month, the committee sought Mr. Khemka’s comments on its findings, to which he has responded by asking the Departments of Town and Country Planning, Urban Estates, Industries and Commerce and Revenue for certain information. From the Revenue department he has asked for any representation, appeal or complaint received from Mr. Vadra or DLF against orders passed by him.

Citing the enquiry report, he had asked Principal Secretary, Town and Country Planning, S.S. Dhillon, to provide him all relevant files related to grant, renewal and transfer of licences to the companies of Mr. Vadra, the beneficial ownership of Onkareshwar Properties (from whom Mr. Vadra bought the Shikohpur land), a licensee of the department, and all cases concerning transfer of licences in the last 10 years.

Mr. Dhillon evaded the request saying he was not aware of any such enquiry report and advised him to approach the office concerned in the State government for information. Mr. Khemka’s request to Principal Secretary (Industries) Y.S. Malik for a list of pieces of land released from acquisition proceedings or not notified under Section 6 of the Land Acquisition Act after preliminary notification under Section 4 by the Industries department and which were licensed by the T&CP department met with strong words. In his letter, Mr. Malik said that since the Industries department had not been associated with the inquiry report, the reference to it was unwarranted.

He further advised Mr. Khemka that “as an officer with more than 20 years of service, you are expected to be aware of rules on the subject. You may approach the competent authority in the State government to seek any information that you need.”