Plots returned after whistle-blower complained to PMO

A cooperative society of employees of BEML, a public sector defence undertaking, made at least two irregular allotments of housing sites to a niece and to a friend of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Adviser, T.K.A. Nair, in December 2008, documents available with The Hindu show.

The allotment of plots in South Bangalore at throwaway prices was made at a time when complaints by company whistle-blowers about the role of BEML Chairman and Managing Director V.R.S. Natarajan in the controversial Tatra truck deal — first made in 2005 — were pending with the Central Vigilance Commission, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister's Office.

The plots were allotted to Mr. Nair's niece, A. Preethy Prabha, and family friend, Uma Devi Nambiar, by the BEML Employees Cooperative Society. A third plot was allotted to another person, who, the whistle-blowers claim, is also related to Mr. Nair, who was the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary when the allotments were made, and still has Minister of State rank. Her identity is being withheld by The Hindu as her relationship to the senior official could not be independently verified. Interestingly, the three sale deeds show that a senior official in Mr. Natarajan's office put his signature to the land transaction as a witness.

Violation

All three transactions violated section 10 (b) of the BEML society's by-laws, which stipulate that allotments of land — which had been given to the society by the State government at significantly subsidised rates — be restricted to employees of the company.

When contacted on Thursday, Ms. Prabha conceded that her connection to BEML is through Mr. Natarajan, whom she described as “a close family friend,” referring to him as “uncle.” Ms. Prabha confirmed that she is indeed T.K.A. Nair's niece (his sister's daughter) and that Ms. Uma Devi Nambiar is “a family friend” who “is very close” to Mr. Nair.

She said: “The plots were not allotted because of our connections [with Mr. Nair and Mr. Natarajan].” When asked about the third allottee, Ms. Prabha's mother abruptly terminated the interview.

Despite repeated efforts to reach Mr. Nair by telephone, The Hindu was unable to obtain his response to a set of questions sent on Friday to the Prime Minister's Communications Adviser and PMO spokesman, Pankaj Pachauri.

The three plots at Channasandra in South Bangalore, each measuring 2,400 sq ft, were all sold in December 2008 for Rs. 10.80 lakh, or Rs. 450 per sq ft. A real estate broker told The Hindu the prevailing market price in the area at that time was Rs. 2,500-Rs. 3,000 per sq ft.

In a letter to the President and the Prime Minister on August 7, 2010, K.S. Periyaswamy, a shareholder and former employee of BEML, complained about the allotments made to the three persons. Alleging that the cooperative society's office-bearers were under pressure from Mr. Natarajan, he said the allotments were made purely because the beneficiaries were connected to Mr. Nair. He also alleged in his letters that the allotments were made to secure the PMO's silence on the Tatra scam.

Although Mr. Periyaswamy got no reply from the Prime Minister's Office or the office of the President, Ms. Umadevi Nambiar and Ms. Preethy Prabha returned the plots to the society without any explanation in December 2010. Asked why the sites were returned, Ms. Prabha said: “We wanted to avoid a controversy.”

On his part, Mr. Natarajan termed Mr. Periyaswamy's allegations “bogus and false” and said that “disgruntled elements” were behind such “conspiracy theories.” He said: “Beyond that I suggest you speak to the president of the housing society.”

Asked how Mr. Nair's relative and friend were allotted sites, the president of the BEML Employees Cooperative Society, N. Munikappa, said: “I don't know. I was not the president then.”

The documents show the sites allotted to Mr. Nair's relatives are part of a list of 173 sites approved by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). Strangely, this list, procured under RTI, only has the site numbers and not the names of the allottees. However, all other approvals by the BDA in the BEML layouts have the full names and details of the allottees. The procedure at the time of allotment is that all short-listed applicants submit an affidavit to the society stating that they are bona fide employees of BEML.

These affidavits are then scrutinised by the BDA before approving the allotments made by a housing society. “In this case, the allottees did not submit these affidavits, in order to escape scrutiny by the BDA,” said Mr. Periyaswamy.

The allotment to Mr. Nair's relative and friend also violated a 1995 Supreme Court order in the HMT House Building Cooperative Society vs. Syed Khader case upholding a High Court ruling which said: “In case of House Building societies formed in respect of employees of any organisation or industry, the membership should be confined only to the employees who may continue as members even after retirement and the Societies should be prohibited from enrolling outsiders as members. Even if a provision is made for enrolling nominal or associate members in the bye-laws of a housing Society, they should also be bona fide residents within the territorial limits of the Society concerned and they should be rendered ineligible for allotment of sites.”

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