New Delhi, Sept. 18: Former Uttar Pradesh chief secretary D.S. Bagga tried to shift the entire blame for the controversial Taj heritage corridor project on former state principal secretary (environment) R.K. Sharma when CBI sleuths questioned him early last month.
Admitting to the officials that “gross procedural irregularities” took place, Bagga distanced himself from the anomalies during his tenure. He was shunted out after the recent change of guard in Uttar Pradesh.
Bagga was also chairman of the Mission Management Board (MMB) set up on the directives of the Supreme Court to protect the environment around Taj Mahal.
The Rs 175-crore corridor project aimed at developing a heritage zone encompassing Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Rambagh, Itmad-ud-Daula and Chini-ka-Roja. It would have been part of a green belt along the Yamuna.
On April 6, 2002, Bagga decided in consultation with then chief minister Mayavati that the Union Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs’ approval was mandatory for releasing funds and beginning any heritage protection scheme.
Bagga told the CBI that Mayavati cleared the proposal, but did not give the go-ahead for construction — a claim investigators are taking with a pinch of salt as the Taj project was among the six priority projects approved by the MMB on August 4 last year.
The former chief secretary said the National Project Construction Corporation (NPCC) was only told to prepare a detailed project report and not to commence work, which was stopped after the Supreme Court intervened. But he failed to clarify why the state had given Rs 17 crore of the Rs 175-crore project to NPCC. At this point, he tried to pass the buck to Sharma, who was suspended over the controversy.
Bagga claimed Sharma wrote to the Centre on November 16 last year, seeking the cabinet committee’s approval for the project. CBI documents showed Bagga claiming: “Surprisingly, he has mentioned in the said letter that the DPRs (detailed project reports) of all the schemes are attached and that the same had already been approved in the meeting (of the MMB) held on 12th October, 2002, which is apparently false.”
When the CBI asked how Sharma could release Rs 17 crore on his own, Bagga said the file on funds for the project never came to him. But he claimed: “In the file on which Rs 17 crore were released, there is no mention of higher orders except the minutes of the meeting of Mission Management Board which have been, as explained above, fraudulently recorded and mischievously misconstrued.”
The CBI has said Rs 17 crore was given to NPCC before formal orders were issued to start work. It has found that officials had sanctioned another Rs 20 crore on May 21 this year, but the money did not reach the construction company as officials were alerted after the scandal was exposed.
Bagga said he had strongly objected to the release of funds and start of work in a noting on the project file. On the contrary, the environment department had noted that all formalities had been completed and even the cabinet committee had released some money which, he again claimed, was not true.
Asked why he did not stop the illegal work at the project site, Bagga said that would have resulted in the wastage of crores of rupees. He blamed Sharma for getting the work started.
When the CBI asked how the NPCC could be awarded the contract without floating tenders, Bagga said the corporation was asked to prepare a project report by the environment department.
Interestingly, four days after a report on June 15 this year that work had been started without statutory approval, Bagga wrote to cabinet secretariat additional secretary R. Poornalingam, saying they had issued a denial. He also wrote that “as per department’s (environment) version, nothing is being done in connection with Taj Protection Mission Project at Agra near Taj Mahal which in any way may be construed to be in contravention of either the orders of court or guidelines of Government of India”.