WHEN Manohar Lal Khattar took over as the Chief Minister of Haryana on October 26, 2014, he did not have a slightest idea how to run the administration. Khattar joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1977. He worked as a full-time pracharak for 14 years before moving to the BJP in 1994. During 2000-2014, Khattar was Organisational General Secretary of the BJP in Haryana. He was, by all means, a political worker who was far away from the intricate world of governance, administration and civil services of the State. When he took over as Chief Minister, he even did not know civil servants by name or face. He appointed Sanjeev Kaushal, a 1986-batch IAS officer, as the Principal Secretary in the Chief Minister’s Secretariat. Kaushal, a seasoned civil servant, started building his team, keeping in mind the political agenda of the new government in the State.
As PK Gupta, Chief Secretary, Haryana, a 1981-batch IAS officer, was about to retire on December 31, 2014, Khattar was looking for a new Chief Secretary. First, Ashok Lavasa, the then Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, and now Finance Secretary, Government of India, was offered the job. But he politely declined to move to the State, stating the Prime Minister has assigned him an important task to complete and it will not be courteous to move in between. Another senior officer, Anuradha Gupta, a 1981-IAS officer, who is posted at WHO at Geneva, was also contacted. But she was not eager to leave the highly paid job.
As per sources, Kaushal had in mind to have a congenial group to administer the State. Apart from this, it was the first time the builder lobby of Haryana was not aware how a new Chief Minister will administer the State. Khattar was absolutely new to the builder lobby, which was desperate to get a senior official appointed as Chief Secretary who had earlier worked with them and was sympathetic to their cause.
Kaushal, meanwhile, was contacting all available senior-most officers. He called Deepinder Singh Dhesi, a 1982-batch IAS officer of Haryana, who was serving as Additional Secretary Commerce, to find out was he available to join as Chief Secretary. Dhesi had earlier worked as chief of Town & Country Planning Department in Bhupinder Singh Hooda government. Being a Haryana cadre officer, he was well versed with the system. But, he was not sure about his future as he was still four years from retirement. These four years had to be meticulously planned. Kaushal and Dhesi had worked earlier in Om Prakash Chautala and Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s regimes, so both had very cordial relations. Dhesi immediately joined as new Chief Secretary of Haryana. Khattar, a complete novice, did not have an idea about the background of Dhesi and the intentions of the powerful builder lobby.
THERE are two parts to Dhesi’s career. First, when he was posted as Joint Secretary in Haryana and was heading the Town & Country Planning Department, and second, regarding Dhesi’s role when he was serving as Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, with additional charge of Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC). (See ‘School for scams’ by Neeraj Mahajan.)
Before joining the Ministry of Commerce, Dhesi was allegedly involved in a commercial land plan sanction in Haryana to Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd, a company of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Khattar government has constituted a one-man commission headed by retired High Court Judge SN Dhingra to investigate commercial licence of land to hundreds of private companies, including Skylight Hospitality and DLF. Justice Dhingra sought six-week extension to submit the report, hours before the deadline was to end on June 30, 2016.
Gfiles has reviewed the allotment document of Sky Light Hospitality. The way former Chief Minister Hooda and officers along with Dhesi allotted land to son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi shows systematic failure of the State machinery. At the behest of Hooda, the officers of the Ministry of Urban Development, Country & Town Planning Department and Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) not only compromised the process of allotment but did not even raise any objection to the allotment. (See the signatures on the sanction list). The document reveals the unabashed loot of resources in defiance to all regulations.
The story starts on January 4, 2008. The project sanction file’s first line states: “This case relates to grant of licence to develop a commercial colony over an area measuring 3.53 acres of land at village Sikohpur in Sector 83 in Gurgaon by M/s Onkareshwer Properties Pvt Ltd.” Onkareshwer Properties is owned by Satyanand Yajee and Godavari Yajee, registered at Flat No B-14/C, First Floor, Freedom Fighters Enclave, Neb Sarai, New Delhi. It’s alleged that both are proxies of Hooda. After reviewing the 29-page file one understand how the files moves when the Chief Minister has allegedly vested interests. There should be many files like this. If the Khattar government digs them out, it will open a Pandora’s Box, but to do so needs political will, honesty and courage.
January: Onkareshwar Properties applies for a licence to commercially develop 2.53 acres in Sector 83, Gurgaon.
February: Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality buys the plot from Onkareshwar.
March 10: Sky Light Hospitality applies for a licence. Officials say while financial capacity papers of the company do not exist, the status of Robert Vadra should be considered for approval. Other exceptions and interpretation of rules help the company.
March 21: Sky Light Hospitality’s application gets the approval of the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
March 28: Letter of intent from the government for a commercial licence given to Sky Light Hospitality.
August 5: Armed with the letter, Vadra’s company signs collaboration agreement with DLF; DLF is to invest in and develop the commercial plot, Vadra’s company to get half the built-up area.
November 13: Sky Light Hospitality’s licence application rejected.
November 18: Sky Light Hospitality’s licence proposal, backed by agreement with the DLF, approved.
April: Licence is transferred from Sky Light Hospitality to DLF.
September: Sky Light Hospitality sells its entire stake to DLF at more than 700 per cent of the price at which it bought the land.
THE controversial case in which Dhesi, who was then heading Town & Country Planning Department, SS Dhillon, Additional Chief Secretary to the Haryana government, Transport and Civil Aviation Departments, who was then Director, Town & Country Planning Department and Chhatar Singh, Member, Union Public Service Commission, who was then Additional Principal Secretary to the Haryana Chief Minister, approved the land plan for commercial use overruling all mild objections.
The land in question is 126.80 acres which was allotted to 14 developers (see box), including Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd. The controversial land deal concerns 3.53 acres of this land. This piece of land was a prime property as it was surrounded with top commercial sanctioned plans. After investigating the documents, it was pointed out by junior-level officials that the area measuring 0.83 acre falls in residential zone for which licence cannot be considered. The area was then reduced to 2.70 acres. In its files, the State government recorded that the 24-metre-wide road within the Sky Light’s plot would take away 1.35 acres from the overall plot. In its report, the CAG said this would leave only 1.35 acres to commercialise, which is less than the minimum requirement of two acres according to rules.
The noting on file states: “As per the provisions of the development plan of the Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex, the 50 per cent of the Commercial Zone area can be considered for grant of commercial licence.” Actually, after all the statutory deductions, the land available for commercial utilisation was just 1.621 acre, which junior level officers pointed out to be on the lower side and could not be considered for sanction. The dealings in Haryana were questioned by the CAG report on Haryana’s Town & Country Planning Department, released in March 2015. The report notes that to camouflage the facts, the file all through talks about ownership for 3.5 acres of land, whereas it was actually 1.6 acres.
SECOND, the land in the controversial commercial sanction plan has no road or provision for any connectivity. Legally, no plan can be sanctioned if there is no road connectivity to any commercial or residential plan submitted before the government. Third, the plan was allegedly sanctioned because Vadra was the Director of Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd.
Will Dhesi continue?
Will Deepinder Singh Dhesi, a 1982-batch IAS officer of Haryana cadre, and the Chief Secretary of Haryana, be removed? Sources disclosed that Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is not content with the working style of Dhesi. Reportedly, Dhesi seldom speaks in the meetings and does not express his frank opinion. Sources disclosed that Khattar is planning to replace Dhesi, but the real issue is whom to bring on this crucial post? Sources close to Dhesi also say that he himself desires to move out from the State and is eager to join as Secretary in the central government. It is learnt that he was offered the post of Secretary, Woman and Child Development Ministry, but he was not enthused as he was eyeing the Ministry of Urban Development. Also, Dhesi has visited Delhi many times regarding a MMTC case being investigated by the CBI, but there is no respite till now for him.
In Haryana, Khattar has to take a tough call in a caste-ridden State. If one goes by seniority and availability of officers, Anuradha Gupta is the senior-most. It’s to be seen if the government offers, will she be able to join leaving her WHO job. The next in line is Krishan Kumar Jalan, a 1982-batch IAS officer, who is Secretary, Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises. Jalan is a hardworking officer and has 11 months before he retires. Next best choice for the State government is Kesani Anand Arora, a 1983-batch IAS officer, Additional Secretary of Haryana Government. She will retire in 2020. Then there is YS Malik, a 1983-batch IAS officer, posted as Additional Secretary, NITI Ayog. Wait and watch who replaces Dhesi, if Khattar decides to say goodbye to him.
On Page 7, point 10 of the sanction report states that as after deducting the land for the road the remaining 1.62 acre is on lower side of the total site area, therefore the ground coverage and FAR shall be permitted on the area of 1.62 acres, subject to actual demarcation of site.
An important observation is made by officials on page 10 of the sanction file. It states: “After examining it is reported that site does not have any approach, either through revenue rasta (road) or any constructed road in development plan as also reported by patwari.” It means the land was locked from all sides and had no road connectivity. But when a Chief Minister desires and officers connive, many ways could be found. Same happened in the Vadra case.
THE real twist took place in March 2008. Page 15 of the sanction states: “M/s Onkareshwar Properties Pvt Ltd, vide application 10.03.2008 (PUC), has intimated that they have sold this land to M/s Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd (SLHPL) and now the licence may be considered in the favour of SLHPL.” SLHPL has two directors, Robert Vadra and Maureen Vadra, registered at 268, Sukhdev Vihar, New Delhi– 110025.
The officers were conscious about the importance of the file and the personality involved, so they noted their objections in a subdued manner. The sanction report’s page 23 mentions the apprehension of officers: “To safeguard the proposed arrangement, necessary conditions have been proposed in the office note. It is submitted that the department has been considering an approach road from the existing plotted colony for grant of additional licence, but there are no precedents as per the arrangement proposed.” This report did not deter or create any obstructions to the sanction as the government planned to create an approach road to the said land, which was almost two kilometres from the main road. The road had to be constructed with public money to facilitate M/s Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd.
PAGE 24 of the report doubts the credentials of Mr Vadra. It clearly says: “The department has not granted any license to the applicant company M/s Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd for setting of commercial colony in Haryana. The financial capacity considering the status of the Director (read Robert Vadra) of the applicant company can be considered.” It means though Vadra was new to the business, but being Vadra, he may be considered. Documents with the Haryana government show that Sky Light Hospitality did not submit any document as proof of its financial capabilities at this stage.
The operative part of the report is summarised between pages 27-29, which is inconsistent with the earlier notes: “There is no existing approach to the applied land but the same is adjoining the proposed plotted colony of M/s Onkareshwar, M/s Mark Buildtech and others in collaboration with M/s Vatika Landbase Ltd. The detailed comments in the regard, in this note of DTP (HS) may kindly be persued. If agreed, a condition shall be imposed that the company will submit NOC from M/s Onkareshwar Properties (P) Ltd and M/s Mark Buildtech (P) Ltd to allow access till the construction of 24-metre wide internal road as proposed by the office, from their site.”
Following this, the file moved rapidly and was cleared by March 25, 2008. It is signed by Dhillon, Dhesi and all concerned senior and junior officers and, finally Chattar Singh, APS CM1, signed it with the stamp “CM has approved”. It is on record that Hooda did not sign a single file; it is a tradition in Haryana that PS of the CM signs the file and it is considered as CM’s approval, which is constitutionally void ab initio. But who cares…
Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer of the 1991 batch, had claimed that Vadra had falsified documents for the 3.5 acres of plot at Shikohpur village of Gurgaon.
Later, the Hooda government constituted a three-member panel, headed by the then Principal Secretary (Revenue), Krishna Mohan, to investigate Khemka’s charges. In its report, submitted in March 2013, the panel not only gave a clean chit to the deal, but also held that Khemka had acted beyond authority by cancelling the mutation of land that was sold to DLF by Vadra’s company. The State government then reportedly reversed Khemka’s decision and sanctioned the land deal.
GURGAON is full of such illegal deals by real estate developers. The builders in Haryana adopted a new technique while aggregating land from farmers before getting any township plan sanctioned. They offered advance to farmers and got land registered on the promise that as and when the township will be sanctioned, the balance payment will be made. It is alleged that many colonisers have not cleared the payments till now. Why and how it happened? The Revenue Department, Country & Town Planning Department and HUDA were aware of the deceit, but when palms of most of the officers were allegedly greased, who would have stopped the loot. Sources disclosed that there are many farmers who have knocked every door but are not able to get justice. There was nobody in the Hooda regime to take notice of these farmers.
Documents establish that Dhesi was very much a part of these misdeeds of the Hooda government. It belies the faith of Haryana’s people when Khattar government claims that it is serious in investigating all Vadra land deals in Gurgaon. It is ironic that perpetrators of the alleged crime are running the Khattar government. The people of Haryana have punished Hooda by dethroning him. Now the Khattar government has to act. Why it is not doing so even as it has all the documents in its possession is though not clear.