In a recent controversy surrounding the valuation of a land plot acquired by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for the Dwarka Expressway, questions have been raised about a potential conflict of interest involving Delhi's chief secretary, Naresh Kumar, and his son, Karan Chauhan, reports The Wire.
The dispute began when the district magistrate (DM) of southwest Delhi awarded a significantly higher compensation of Rs 353 crore to two individuals for 19 acres of land in Bamnoli village, intended for NHAI's Dwarka Expressway. This valuation represented an increase of nearly nine-fold compared to a previous valuation in 2018, based on the land being reclassified as a low-density residential area rather than agricultural.
The beneficiaries of this increased compensation were Subhash Chand Kathuria and his brother, Vinod Kathuria. Notably, Subhash Kathuria is related by marriage to Aman Sarin, the promoter of a realty firm called Anantraj Limited, which has close business ties with Karan Chauhan, the son of Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar.
Karan Chauhan, in addition to being the son of the Delhi chief secretary, is an employee of Anantraj Ltd and a director in three other companies, some of which have ties to Anantraj. This web of connections raises concerns over the potential for a conflict of interest in the matter.
Notably, Chauhan's companies and Anantraj Ltd share common directors, postal addresses, and email addresses, suggesting a close relationship that goes beyond a typical employer-employee connection. The proximity of these relationships has raised questions about whether Chauhan's involvement influenced the land valuation dispute.
Chief Secretary's Response
Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar has denied any wrongdoing, asserting that his son is not dependent on him and that he was unaware of the relationships between Anantraj Ltd's directors and Subhash Kathuria. Kumar maintains that there is no conflict of interest.
Despite the land valuation dispute being challenged in court and under the jurisdiction of the National Capital Civil Services Authority (NCSSA), Chief Secretary Kumar recommended action against the DM, Hemant Kumar. Hemant Kumar was subsequently suspended and transferred to the Andaman Islands, prompting speculation about the reasons for the transfer.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is now investigating the matter, but concerns have been raised about the impartiality of the probe due to the potential conflict of interest involving the chief secretary's family.
The Delhi high court recently canceled the DM's order to raise compensation in the NHAI vs. Subhash Chand Kathuria case, further adding uncertainty to the situation.
The controversy surrounding the land valuation dispute for the Dwarka Expressway and the potential conflict of interest involving Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar's son has raised significant concerns. While Kumar maintains that there is no wrongdoing, questions about the impartiality of the CBI inquiry persist. This issue highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in government dealings and the need for thorough investigations to ensure public trust in administrative processes.