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Panel to look into Vadra land deals

- Haryana sets up team after IAS officer claims he was shunted for ordering probe
File picture of Vadra; (right) Khemka addresses a media conference in Chandigarh on Tuesday. (PTI)

Oct. 16: An indirect official inquiry has been instituted for the first time into Robert Vadra’s land deals in Haryana following an allegation by an IAS officer that he was shunted out for ordering a probe.

The Congress-ruled Haryana government today announced a three-member inquiry committee, headed by the additional chief secretary.

The panel was not constituted specifically to inquire into Vadra’s deals but they will be covered since it will look into the probe ordered by Ashok Khemka, the IAS officer, as well his statements to the media. The panel has been asked to file its report within a month.

Khemka, who said he had been transferred 40 times in 21 years because he was not pliable, had ordered the probe into land deals linked to Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law in four districts of Haryana and cancelled the mutation of 3.5 acres Vadra had sold to realty giant DLF.

The order to transfer Khemka from the post of inspector-general of land registration was issued last Thursday (October 11) and Khemka had ordered a probe into the alleged under-valuation of Vadra’s properties on October 12, according to the Haryana government.

Yesterday, before taking charge of his new post as managing director of the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation, Khemka had passed orders cancelling the mutation of a plot of land owned by Vadra at Manesar-Shikohpur.

“So, the question of these being the reasons for his transfer does not arise,” Haryana chief secretary P.K. Chaudhary said.

The Haryana government claimed the transfer had nothing to do with the Vadra deals and it was based on a high court order.

Punjab and Haryana High Court had asked the government to appoint another officer in place of Khemka but the order was not strictly related to his assignment as inspector-general, land records.

The court order related to Khemka’s additional assignment as special collector, which threw up an incongruous situation in which the officer who would verify Khemka’s decisions was junior to him. The court had said another officer could be appointed as special collector.

Citing the order, the Haryana government has now transferred Khemka out of the land assignment, too.

Khemka said it was “grossly unfair to punish him for being upright and exposing the scams”.

The officer has written a letter to the Haryana chief secretary, complaining about his transfer. The officer has refused to divulge the contents of the letter but said that he was “anguished” and “suffering” because of 40 transfers in 21 years of service.

“If these problems are brought in sunshine, probably my decisions would appear to be normal and correct. But what happens is, inside, you are guided and directed to behave differently. If you do take an action which you call strong but I would call as correct, and then action is taken against you, it’s very demoralising, dehumanising and you feel ashamed of yourself,” he said.

“You get words like ‘you don’t get along well with others’, ‘there are shades of grey in life’, etc. These kinds of euphemisms are created to deviate you from the correct path,” Khemka told NDTV.

According to the preliminary findings of the probe ordered by Khemka, which were published in The Hindu today and repeated by the officer on television channels during the day, the land was bought by Vadra in February 2008 for Rs 7.5 crore.

A month later, Vadra was given a licence by Haryana’s town and country planning department to develop a housing colony on the site. Vadra then entered into an agreement with DLF to sell the land to the realtor for Rs 58 crore within 65 days of the licence being granted. The sale was registered in September this year but Rs 50 crore of the agreed price had been paid to Vadra by October 2009, according to the probe report.

The land deal between Vadra and DLF had been questioned on two grounds. One, how the value of land bought by Vadra for Rs 7.5 crore in 2008 skyrocketed to Rs 58 crore in a little over two months when the agreement was drawn up to sell the plot to DLF. However, this cannot be legally questioned unless a quid pro quo in violation of rules is established. Two, alleged procedural lapses and haste in clearances.

Replying to suggestions that he should not have issued the orders after the transfer, Khemka said: “I served as IG, registration, till 4.30pm yesterday, the time when I relinquished charge.”

Ever since activist Arvind Kejriwal levelled the allegations against Vadra, the state government as well as the Centre have been denying any wrong-doing on the basis of “internal” enquiries. However, Khemka’s allegations have set the stage for a formal inquiry by the Haryana government.

Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said: “In case the assertions made by the IAS officer proves someone guilty in the inquiry, action would be taken against the defaulter. And if Khemka has misquoted facts, action would be taken against him.”

The chief minister said his government was “not favouring anyone and was acting in a neutral manner”. Hooda added that as far as the transfer was concerned, it was the “prerogative” of the government.

Congress sources in Delhi said that since it was an administrative issue, only the state government could respond and “we support that”.

Haryana chief secretary Chaudhary said: “The preliminary facts brought to the notice of the state government by the district revenue authority at Gurgaon point out that prima facie, the factual position is different from the stand taken by Khemka. The state government has nonetheless ordered an inquiry.”

Contesting the allegation of under-valuation of the property registered, Chaudhary said a detailed report was obtained from the tehsildar. According to the report, the sale deed and subsequent transfer of the land were way higher than the collector rates. Hence, no loss of revenue has been caused to the state, Chaudhary said.