A top official in the Haryana government’s land registration department was transferred hours after he initiated a probe into all the land dealings of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in four districts of the State neighbouring Delhi, The Hindu can disclose.
The transfer order came on October 11, 2012 — even as the country was still digesting the allegations made by India Against Corruption of a nexus between Mr. Vadra and real estate giant DLF — and strongly suggests that the dealings between the two were not just “transactions between private individuals” but may have involved the cooperation and even collusion of politicians and bureaucrats. Haryana has been ruled by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress since 2004.
The transferred officer, Ashok Khemka, has protested his eviction from the post of Haryana’s Director-General of Land Consolidation and Land Records-cum-Inspector-General of Registration in writing, alleging mala fide. Though he had no option but to accept the marching orders, Mr. Khemka issued an order on his last day in office on October 15 cancelling the mutation of a 3.531-acre plot of land in Manesar-Shikohpur that Mr. Vadra had sold to DLF for Rs. 58 crore.
Three days earlier, pursuant to the probe he had already initiated, Mr. Khemka issued a letter formally ordering an inquiry across four districts into the “alleged under-valuation of some properties registered by Shri Robert Vadra or his companies as vendor or vendee.” His letter took note of IAC’s allegations and reports in the media.
Based on the preliminary details uncovered by the inquiry in the case of at least one of those properties, Mr. Khemka cancelled the mutation of the 3.531- acre plot that Mr. Vadra’s company, M/s Sky Light Hospitality, had sold to DLF Universal Ltd on September 18, 2012. He did so on the grounds that the mutation violated the States Consolidation Act and was done not by a revenue officer but by the Assistant Consolidation Officer of Gurgaon who was not authorised to do so. (EA4/2012/4620-4621 dated 15 October, 2012)
The inquiry also points out that the action of the sub-registrar, Manesar, in registering the property was “not proper” because the estate of Shikohpur was notified for consolidation in August 2011 and as such transfer/sale of property during the pendency of consolidation proceedings without the sanction of the Consolidation Officer is prohibited. He also found that the permission given to Mr. Vadra on April 3, 2012 by Haryana’s Town and Country Planning Department to sell the property violated the same provision of the Consolidation Act.
A careful perusal of the timeline of the purchase and sale of this property also raises questions about the exact nature of the deal Mr. Vadra had struck with DLF. The sale deed of this land shows that it was bought by Sky Light Hospitality for Rs. 7.5 crore on February 12, 2008, and mutated in its favour the very next day. A little more than a month later, on March 28, 2008, the Town and Country Planning Department issued Mr. Vadra’s company a licence to develop 2.701 acres of the land into a housing colony. This licence was subsequently renewed on January 18, 2011, according to the enquiry report accessed by The Hindu .
But though the sale deed of this land for Rs. 58 crore to DLF was registered on September 18, 2012, the enquiry found that Mr. Vadra had “entered into an agreement to sell within 65 days of the issue of the first licence.” By October 2009, he had received Rs. 50 crore out of the total sale consideration, the first instalment of which was made on June 3, 2008. Mr. Khemka, in his order, points out: “It is not clear what made the Town and Country Planning Department renew the licence in 2011 in favour of Sky Light Ltd when 86.2 per cent of the total sale money had been paid 15 months before.”
“If M/s Sky Light Ltd suppressed the fact that [it] had entered into a sale agreement of the property with DLF before the renewal of the licence then the department ought to be taking action [against] the former for suppressing facts.” But if Mr. Vadra had indeed informed the department about his entering into an agreement to sell the land to DLF on June 3, 2008 (when the first instalment was paid) “it is unfathomable how the department could renew the licence in 2011” in his favour, “when he had ex-facie entered into agreement to sell within 65 days of the issue of the first licence,” Mr. Khemka’s report goes on to say.
Haryana officials familiar with the deal say that the sequence of transactions — in which the land’s value went up from Rs. 7.5 crore to Rs. 58 crore in just 65 days because of the licence given to it — raises questions about whether DLF had entered into business with Mr. Vadra in order to get clearances for land that may not have been forthcoming through regular methods.
In his October 12 letter, Mr. Khemka, undeterred by his transfer, ordered the deputy commissioners of the districts of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Palwal and Mewat to inspect all documents from 2005 to date, registered by Mr. Vadra or his companies, either as buyer or seller, to check whether any property has been undervalued for the purpose of evading payment of stamp duty.
Mr. Khemka’s transfer comes after he has spent less than three months in his assignment as Inspector-General of Registration where, besides probing the Vadra deals, he has uncovered massive fraud in the transfer of panchayat lands to realtor companies and some powerful bureaucrats and politicians.
In an angry letter to the Haryana Chief Secretary protesting his transfer, Mr. Khemka has requested him to “see for himself the cases of villages Baad Gujar, Rozka Gujar, Kot, Shikohpur, Kalesar, Anhir, Malikpur, Bangar and Chirsi. It is grossly unfair to punish me for being upright and exposing the scams and corrupt acts instead of taking action against the guilty.” “It seems that this is deliberate and mala fide to punish me due to some vested elements in the political bureaucratic hierarchy affected by the exposure of the scam in Consolidation under the garb of exercise of powers. Several hundred crores worth of panchayat lands were transferred to realtor companies which were created a few days earlier… Panchayats also lost huge lands in consolidation by way of deliberate undervaluation,” the letter states. He ends by saying: “I am threatened that I would be subject to transfer every month so as to humiliate me and demoralize me.”
Mr. Khemka has been transferred to the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation on a post that was held by an officer 12 years his junior. He left charge on Monday, but not before issuing orders cancelling the mutation in favour of DLF and putting on record the irregularities that he has detected in the Manesar-Shikohpur land deal.
Haryana officers say that the discretionary Change in Land Use permission is exercised almost like the old industrial licensing regime and is the “mother source of all land scams. CLU permission granted on agricultural land escalates its value manifold, resulting in a premium for a nexus of realtors, politicians and bureaucrats.”
With Mr. Khemka out of the way, it is not clear if the leads he had developed or the inquiry he has ordered would be followed by the Haryana authorities. On October 12, he formally ordered four Deputy Commissioners-cum-registrars to “estimate the real value” of Mr. Vadra’s direct and indirect property holdings “and in case of under-valuations the matter should be referred to the Collector under Section 47-A of the Indian Stamps Act for correct assessment of the stamp duty payable. The names of the companies of Shri Robert Vadra as reported in The Hindu dated October 8, 2012 include Sky Light Realty, Sky Light Hospitality, Real Earth Estates, Blue Breeze Trading, Artex and Northern India IT Parks.”
Mr. Khemka had asked that the report “must reach this office by October 25, 2012.”