Barely a month after assuming power, the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government in Rajasthan has ordered a probe into Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s controversial land deals in the state.
CP Meena, chairperson of the Rajasthan Revenue Board, has written to the district magistrates of the bordering districts of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer to collect details about Vadra’s land holdings in the state. The state government’s initial calculation suggests Vadra may have bought over 10,000 acres of land in the state.
Meena said he has asked for information about lands changing hands during the previous Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot. Evidence available in the public domain suggests that the Congress governments of Rajasthan and Haryana had facilitated Vadra’s huge land acquisitions. The Congress and the Haryana government, however, insist that Vadra’s real estate dealings were his private transactions and did not involve any illegality.
When the Rajasthan Congress government was offering financial help to farmers, Vadra on the other hand reportedly bought land from them for as low as Rs20,000 an acre. A plot of 30 hectares which was available for Rs4.45 lakh two years ago fetches nearly Rs2 crore today.
The Revenue Board is looking into the circumstances under which Vadra bought agriculture land and converted it into industrial one for his business purposes. The state government is also verifying if Vadra violated the ceiling law and compensation paid to local farmers. A team of officers will get in touch with the farmers to record their statements and find out if they had willingly sold their land or were coerced to do so for a paltry sum.
The four companies under the scanner are North India IT Parks Ltd, Real Earths Estate Pvt Ltd, Sky Light Realty Pvt Ltd, Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd. All the companies are owned by Vadra and each firm bought at least 1,000 acres of land.
Meena clarified that he asked for the information following the advice of the state assembly secretariat. “A question had come up after which a member wanted to know about the land dealings. It is only because of this that I directed the officers to collect details which will be passed on to the assembly secretariat,” he said. Incidentally, BJP MLA Rohitash Kumar, who lost the recently concluded elections from Bansur, had asked a question in the last assembly — which now stands dissolved — about the land dealings of Vadra.
The previous Congress government in Rajasthan had acquired 50,000 hectares of land for solar plants, but intriguingly, bypassed the wasteland near power sub-stations during the acquisition process, leaving it for Vadra.
Sources told dna that the state government was also probing if Vadra knew the location of solar plants before he bought barren lands from farmers at throwaway prices. They said eight months after the land dealings, the Ministry of Non-Conventional and Renewable Energy led by Dr Farooq Abdullah, in February 2010, announced the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission Policy under which huge subsidies (nearly 40 per cent) were offered for setting up grid-tied solar power plants, thereby helping in soaring Vadra’s land prices.
Earlier, five senior BJP MPs had written to Raje demanding a probe into Vadra’s land deals under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. This demand was made immediately after the central government announced a judicial commission to probe ‘snoopgate’ which allegedly involved Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. The letter was written by Ravishankar Prasad, Arjun Meghwal, J P Nadda, Bhupinder Yadav and Rajendra Aggarwal.
“There is a Land Ceiling Act in Rajasthan and when an ordinary person violates it, he faces action from the law authorities. Vadra and his companies have openly violated the Act and this was ignored by the previous Congress government despite repeated complaints. There is a need for a transparent probe into the matter,” the letter said. It further stated that government officials misused their position at the behest of then Rajasthan government to facilitate the purchase of land by Vadra and his companies.