Lucknow, Sept. 1: The CBI today questioned Mayavati for three hours over her role in the controversial Rs 175-crore Taj heritage corridor project.
The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister was questioned at her residence here about the “undue haste” with which her government had released Rs 17 crore for the project. She was also asked to disclose her assets.
“We also asked her from where she got the money to celebrate her 47th birthday in January this year,” said an official, who wanted not to be named.
A five-member team led by CBI deputy inspector-general P. Neeraj Nayan visited Mayavati’s Mall Avenue residence this afternoon to record her statement.
The CBI zeroed in on the former chief minister after interrogating former environment minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui, chief secretary D.S. Bagga, the then principal secretary, P.L. Punia, and other top officials.
“Their statements suggested that Mayavati not only knew of the ongoing work but had given it her prior approval,” officials said.
The former chief minister had said she was not aware of the Taj project and had been kept in the dark by state government officials. She had also accused Union culture minister Jagmohan of trying to implicate her and asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to sack him.
The Supreme Court asked the CBI to investigate when it was brought to its notice that work on the controversial project had been started without necessary statutory clearances and in violation of the apex court’s directives.
After going through CBI’s interim report on August 21, the Supreme Court said some important persons appeared to be involved. It ordered a senior bureau official to interrogate them and also investigate their assets.
CBI sources said Mayavati was asked about her former subordinates’ statement that work began on the project only after her office gave the go-ahead. Bureau officials refused to reveal what the former chief minister told them. But reliable sources say she “spilled the beans”.
Sources said the questioning revolved around three main points:
What was the undue haste in releasing the money for the project'
Why did Mayavati approve the project without necessary legal sanctions'
Why was Rs 17 crore released to the National Project Construction Corporation without any formal agreement being signed'
Bureau officials interrogated the former chief minister from 1.30 pm till 4.30 pm. The CBI team said it might quiz her again after verifying her statement with top state officials involved in clearing the project.
The bureau has with it a document bearing Punia’s signature and the comment: “Mukhyamantri ne anumodit kiya [the chief minister has approved this (the project)].”
The CBI has other documents showing that Mayavati knew about the project at every stage, sources said.
It has a note from the budget officer of the state finance department saying: “ I have been directed to convey that a sum of Rs 10 crore should immediately be released for the project while another Rs 7 crore should also be released by November 23, 2002.”
Quoting government rules, a CBI official pointed out that any payment exceeding Rs 5 crore should have the clearance of the chief minister. “Either that rule was flouted or the chief minister was in the know of things,” he said.