| A man rides past rocks that were to be used in the construction near the Taj Mahal (in the background) in Agra. (AFP)
New Delhi, July 16: The Supreme Court today ordered a CBI inquiry into the Taj heritage corridor scandal.
A division bench of Justices M.B. Shah and Ar. Lakshmanan directed the intelligence agency to submit its report within two months.
While considering a detailed project report that was not approved by the Centre, the Union environment ministry and other expert bodies, the court said it was difficult to place the onus on any one person for releasing crores of rupees. Hence, the inquiry would fix responsibility on the official, politician and/or any other person accountable for the scandal.
The judges wondered how Rs 17 crore was spent on the project despite no clearances from various authorities and how the National Project Construction Company had carried out the project causing ecological and environmental damages to the Taj, the Yamuna and, of course, the public exchequer.
“Considering all the aspects as well as the allegations made by the former standing counsel of the Uttar Pradesh government, Ajay Agarwal, it appears that a detailed inquiry is necessary to be carried out by the CBI,” the judges said in a brief order.
Earlier, the apex court had ordered the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi police to provide security to Agarwal, who had moved court alleging a “threat to (his) life” and his family. The Mayavati government had sacked Agarwal following the scandal.
The judges said that since the officials involved were yet to be “identified”, the CBI inquiry would identify the officials concerned. “We direct the director of CBI to see (to it) that the inquiry about the illegalities and irregularities regarding the corridor project is investigated and concerned officials are identified,” they said in the order.
Besides endangering the Taj, the project had eaten into the Yamuna bed behind the Taj and the Agra Fort.
“The powers that be in UP, instead of creating something new which could be classified as a world heritage monument, is trying to demolish or endanger an existing world heritage monument by their hasty or irregular activities,” the bench observed.
The Uttar Pradesh government had said the mission management board headed by the chief secretary had decided to draw a detailed project report of the heritage corridor and had not taken any required clearance for it.
State counsel Rakesh Dwivedi blamed sacked principal secretary R.K. Sharma in the court, saying he had gone ahead without clearances from authorities like the Union environment ministry, the Central Pollution Control Board and several other nodal agencies. Dwivedi added that Sharma had been suspended pending an inquiry against him.
Sharma’s lawyer R.K. Jain countered Dwivedi, stating that the state government had made his client a scapegoat to save the skin of the chief secretary. He argued that the project could not have taken off without the chief secretary’s clearance and nod from the highest authorities, indicating chief minister Mayavati.
On the other hand, sacked counsel Agarwal also blamed Sharma and said he had threatened him.
The bench said that amid these allegations and counter allegations, an inquiry by a premier investigating agency like the CBI would be befitting. “Considering all the aspects as well as allegations and counter allegations including the ones made by the state’s ex-standing counsel, it appears that a detailed inquiry is necessary by CBI,” the judges said.
Apex court commissioner on the corridor Krishan Mahajan made a detailed presentation to the court on how the project would have harmed the Taj besides polluting the Yamuna and reducing it to a “ditch” behind the marble monument.