The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shourie sees futile Centaur ‘dirt’ chase

New Delhi, July 21: Facing a probe into a decision he took as minister, Arun Shourie today said the government was digging for “dirt” in the wrong place.

Ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, the Centre has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the sale of the Centaur hotels in Mumbai by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram had promised a probe to Left and Congress MPs after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)’s report criticising the sale was tabled in Parliament.

The sale of the government-owned Airport Centaur Hotel, located on 30,000 square metres of expensive real estate in Santa Cruz, and Centaur Juhu, overlooking the Juhu promenade, was pushed through in 2002 by Shourie, the disinvestment minister in the BJP-led government.

The bureau has been asked to probe whether the disinvestment ministry had relaxed procedures and intervened in favour of any particular bidder, sources said.

The BJP dubbed the probe “yet another example of the Congress-led UPA government’s vindictive politics”. Party spokesman Prakash Javadekar said: “The Left parties have been attacking the government day in and day out in the strongest possible words. This so-called inquiry is just a morsel that it has thrown to appease them ahead of the Parliament session.”

The Left welcomed the inquiry and demanded more such probes.

Shourie said he had “nothing to hide”.

Earlier in the day, he had told a news agency that if the investigators came to his home: “I will personally serve them excellent Madras coffee, as well as excellent jasmine tea straight from Beijing.”

The CAG had focused on the sale of the Airport Centaur to the Batras, who had known links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for Rs 83 crore. It was resold for about Rs 30 crore more to the Sahara Group after a month.

It had also criticised the sale of Centaur Juhu to a company floated by Ajit Kerkar, a former director on Air-India’s board. Kerkar had resigned soon after helping the government to decide to sell the hotel and floated a company that became the lone bidderfor the property.

An Air-India subsidiary owned the hotels.

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