Haryana reconstitutes SIT probing case against Vadra and Hooda on the instructions of HC

Chandigarh, 14 April: The Haryana government has reconstituted the special investigation team (SIT) probing a first information report (FIR) pertaining to suspected irregularities in a land transaction between Sky Light Hospitality and realty major DLF Ltd in Gurugram’s Shikohpur.

The SIT was reconstituted on April 7, 2023, after criticism of its slow pace of progress by a Punjab and Haryana high court bench monitoring the timeline of cases against MPs and MLAs.

Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is a director of Sky Light Hospitality and the deal took place when the state was governed by a Congress administration under Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The BJP, now in government in the state, made the alleged corruption and nepotism in the land deal an issue in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

On Thursday, Hooda said there was no illegality in the matter as it was purely a business transaction between private parties. “The issue is time and again raked up by the BJP just to conceal its failures,” he said.

Vadra’s counsel, Suman Khaitan, did not respond to the request for a telephonic interview on the matter.
On September 1, 2018, the Gurugram police registered a criminal case against Hooda, Vadra and others under sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 (forgery of valuable security, will ), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using a forged document or electronic record as genuine) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and section 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act ( criminal misconduct by a public servant).

However, the investigations in the case moved at an extremely slow pace, with the police taking a plea for the non-availability of the entire official record.

The reconstituted SIT is headed by the deputy commissioner of police, traffic, Gurugram, Virender Vij and has two ACP rank officers, Suresh Panghal and Vikas Kaushik. Since chief minister ML Khattar believed officers familiar with land revenue and town and country planning laws and regulations would be needed to assist the cops, the state government has nominated an IAS officer, Mukul Kumar, who is also a former OSD to Khattar and former chief town planner, Dilbagh Sihag to lend assistance to the SIT on technical issues. The land in question is in Gurugram’s Shikohpur (sector 83).

Sky Light was granted a real estate development licence by the town and country planning department for developing a commercial colony on 2.701 acres in the revenue estate of Shikohpur village (now sector 83), Gurugram, on December 15, 2008, during Hooda’s reign as CM. Later, Sky Light, by way of a sale deed of September 18, 2012, sold 3.53 acres, including the licenced area of 2.701 acres, to DLF for ₹58 crore. The licence was cancelled by the department after seven years on March 9, 2022. The private transaction came under the spotlight after Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka, on October 15, 2012, cancelled the mutation of the land in his capacity as director of Consolidation of Holdings.

A committee of officers constituted by the then-state government termed Khemka’s orders to cancel the mutation “inappropriate and without jurisdiction”.

The BJP, after winning the Haryana elections in 2014, set up a commission of inquiry under Justice SN Dhingra (retd) in 2015 to probe issues pertaining to the grant of a commercial licence to Sky Light.

The Punjab and Haryana high court, on January 10, 2019, quashed the report of the commission, citing procedural flaws and restrained the state government from making it public. However, the high court said the state government would be at liberty to appoint a new commission on the same subject matter. The government did not appoint one. The FIR against the former CM was also termed legally unsustainable by experts as the police did not take prior approval from the state government under section 17-A of the amended Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act before registering it. The government subsequently on November 29, 2018, took ex post facto approval from the governor to investigate the offences alleged to have been committed by the former chief minister.