Chandigarh: The public in Haryana may not have ever heard of it but the then Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda saw “huge public interest” being served in re-allotting a prime piece of land in Panchkula town, adjoining Chandigarh, to Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) – the company that used to publish National Herald newspaper.
The 3,360 square metre plot in Panchkula’s upscale Sector 6, which is bang opposite the Haryana Police headquarters, is worth millions of rupees now.
National Herald newspaper is in the midst of a national controversy following a court case in New Delhi against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi and their close aides alleging that properties and assets of AJL worth hundreds of crores were transferred in a dubious manner to a company in which the Gandhi family had a major stake.
Documents of the Haryana government in possession of IANS clearly show that Hooda, as chief minister, not only went out of the way but in violation of rules, and against legal advice, went ahead to re-allot the land to AJL.
“The AJL is a renowned organisation founded by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. The Hindi daily ‘Navjivan’ which this organisation plans to start will serve huge public interest. It will also add yet another feature to the prestigious town of Panchkula. I, therefore, order that plot No. C-17, Sector-6, Panchkula be re-allotted to M/s Associated Journals Ltd at original rates plus interest thereon till date,” Hooda ordered on August 28, 2005.
Hooda, who became chief minister in March 2005, got a letter from senior Congress leader and AJL chairman Motilal Vora on June 29, just over three months after the Congress came back to power in the state after a gap of nine years, seeking re-allotment of the land to AJL.
He not only over-ruled legal advice but his government showed unprecedented pace in ensuring that the AJL, which had close links to the Congress, got the prime land back.
Vora, in his letter, stated that AJL was “unable to undertake construction on the plot due to financial crunch” which led to the plot being taken back. The plot was allotted to AJL in 1982 and resumed by the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) later due to non-construction. HUDA finally cancelled the allotment in 1996.
Documents show that Haryana’s joint legal remembracer Jagdeep Jain, on August 17, 2005, had strongly opposed the re-allotment of the plot to AJL.
“The revision petition having been dismissed way back on 10.10.1996, the order of resumption has attained finality. There can thus be no question of re-allotment or restoration of the plot to the same allottee. If, however, the provision or the policy allow, fresh allotment at prevalent rates can be made as per the procedure for allotment of institutional sites,” he wrote.
The same note was endorsed by the then HUDA chief administrator and forwarded to the chief minister’s office the very next day (August 18).
Hooda, on August 28, overruled the LR’s note saying: “Shri Motilal Vora, chairman, Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) vide letter dated 29.6.2005 has represented to me that the organisation was not able to undertake construction of building within the stipulated period due to financial crunch. They had requested HUDA authorities for extension of time. HUDA authorities, however, did not accede to their request and cancelled the allotment.”
Without following the existing rules, Hooda wrote: “Order of resumption is a last resort with the government and such an order needs to be made with great caution. In my view, this was a fit case for grant of further extension in time for construction.”
Hooda, on his part, has defended his action in 2005 in re-allotting the land to AJL saying that there was no wrong-doing and everything was done as per procedure.
After the land was re-allotted to AJL, construction on it was completed in the next few years. However, the ‘Navjivan’ newspaper, which was supposed to “serve huge public interest” in the “prestigious town of Panchkula”, is yet to see light of the day.