Robert Vadra

Recalling Robert Vadra-DLF land deal which BJP milked politically in 2014 — and which the party now says was clean

The controversy around the allegedly shady land deal struck 11 years ago between Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s M/s Skylight Hospitality and real estate giant DLF Universal Ltd helped the BJP create electoral history in Haryana in 2014.

The BJP weaponized politically IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s cancellation of the mutation of the land deal in October 2012 and, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, issued a six-page booklet titled “Damad Shree”, referring to the alleged deals of Vadra in Rajasthan and Haryana.

The party also released a nearly eight-minute campaign film seeking to establish that Vadra was helped in these business deals by the Gandhi family when the Congress was in power both in the state and at the Centre. In 2014, the BJP came to power for the first time in Haryana, winning 47 of the 90 seats in the state Assembly.

But now, almost a decade later, the BJP-JJP government of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has told the Punjab and Haryana High Court that “no regulations/ rules have been found violated in the transfer of land by Robert Vadra’s M/s Skylight Hospitality to the DLF Universal Limited”.

A day after the submission of the affidavit in the HC, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who was Chief Minister of Haryana from 2005 to 2014, told The Indian Express on Thursday (April 20) that he had “always said that it was a politically motivated case…registered with political motives”.

In 2018, an FIR was registered against Hooda, Vadra, and real estate companies DLF and Onkareshwar Properties for alleged criminal conspiracy, cheating, fraud, and forgery, and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Hooda, Vadra, and the Congress party have always denied any wrongdoing.

What was this real estate deal that played a vital role in the Congress’s eclipse and the BJP’s rise in Haryana?

So, who bought land from whom, and where?

In February 2008, Skylight Hospitality, which Vadra had launched in 2007 with a capital of Rs 1 lakh, bought about 3.5 acres of land in Manesar-Shikohpur in Gurgaon from Onkareshwar Properties for Rs 7.5 crore. The plot was mutated in favour of Skylight the next day, and the title of the land was transferred to Vadra within 24 hours of the purchase. This process usually takes at least three months.

A month later, the Haryana government, which was then headed by Hooda, gave Skylight Hospitality permission to develop a housing project on most of the land. This led to an immediate increase in the value of the land.

In June 2008, DLF agreed to buy the plot for Rs 58 crore — which meant that in just a few months, the value of Vadra’s property had increased by close to 700%. The payment was made to Vadra in instalments, and it was only in 2012 that the mutation transferring the colony licence on the land was transferred to DLF.

Where did IAS officer Khemka come in?

In October 2012, Khemka, who was then Director General, Consolidation of Land Holdings and Land Records-cum-Inspector General of Registration, cancelled the mutation of the 3.531-acre plot at Shikohpur village that Vadra had sold to DLF Universal for Rs 58 crore. The officer was transferred on the orders of Chief Minister Hooda on October 11, 2012, hours after he started looking into Vadra’s land deals in the state.

However, Khemka completed the probe and set aside the mutation on October 15, 2012 before relinquishing charge to join his new assignment as managing director of a small public sector undertaking, Haryana Seeds Development Corporation, where the government had posted him. The mutation was set aside on the grounds that the assistant consolidation officer, who had sanctioned it, was not competent to do so.

While cancelling the mutation, Khemka, in his order, mentioned that “the village of Shikohpur was notified under 14(1) of the East Punjab Holdings (Consolidation and Prevention of Fragmentation) Act, 1948, on August 5, 2011, and transfer of property during the pendency of consolidation proceedings without the sanction of the consolidation officer was prohibited”.

What did the Hooda government do after that?

After Khemka’s order cancelling the mutation of the land deal sparked a major controversy, the Haryana government formed a panel of three senior IAS officers — Krishna Mohan, Rajan Gupta, and K K Jalan — to look into the issue.

In April 2013, the government gave a clean chit to both Vadra and DLF, and instead accused Khemka of “acting beyond the authority vested in him”.

And what happened after the BJP came to power?

Soon after coming to power, the Khattar government set up the one-man Justice Dhingra Commission of Inquiry on May 14, 2015, which submitted a 182-page report to the state government on August 31, 2016. But the government never made the contents of this report public.

In November 2016, Hooda moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, challenging the decision to set up the Commission of Inquiry. On the first day of the hearing on November 23, 2016, the government gave an undertaking that the report “shall not be published”. However, sources said that the Dhingra report had recommended an investigation against Hooda, having concluded that “his conduct allegedly comes under the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act for giving pecuniary advantage to close associates”.

In 2018, Hooda and Vadra were booked for alleged shady land deals, including this deal.

What is the latest development?

The Haryana government’s affidavit, submitted by Dr Raj Shri Singh, Inspector General of Police, Crime, Gurugram, before the HC Bench of Justices Augustine George Masih and Harpreet Singh Brar, has submitted that no regulations or rules were violated in the transfer of land by Skylight Hospitality to DLF Universal. The affidavit has been submitted in a matter relating to pendency of cases against sitting or former MPs and MLAs in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh.

The affidavit says that eight cases against MPs/ MLAs in Haryana are currently under investigation; six of these cases pertain to the State Vigilance Bureau.

On the Vadra land transfer case, the affidavit says: “It was reported by Tehsildar Manesar, Gurugram that Skylight Hospitality sold 3.5 Acre (land in question) to DLF Universal Limited on September 18, 2012 and no regulation/ rules have been violated in said transaction. As per report received from Tehsildar, Wazirabad, Gurugram, it was clearly stated that the land in question has not been found in the name of DLF Universal Limited and the said land still exist in the name of HSVP/HSIIC, Haryana.”

The affidavit also says that a new special investigation team (SIT) has been constituted on March 22, comprising a DCP, two ACPs, an Inspector and an ASI to probe the matter further.

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