When it comes to Robert Vadra, fiction seems to have over taken facts and rhetoric seems to have over taken substance. With the recent report of the CAG tabled in the Haryana Assembly, old allegations against Vadra have once again been regurgitated into the public domain. But much more is being made out in the media, especially by the BJP on what this CAG report says. Here is my attempt to decode the truth from all the hype.
In the 166 page CAG report (Report No - 2 of 2015 Government of Haryana - Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Social, General and Economic Sectors (Non Public Sector Undertakings) there are just a handful of references to M/s Skylight Hospitality Private Ltd alongwith other firms. Not a single reference to Robert Vadra! And in every reference to Skylight , the report laments not about Skylight breaking any laws or regulations or using illegal means to influence any policy, politician or bureaucrat but about a general situation of helplessness where the rules and regulations could have been more defined or stricter in hindsight!
The report doesn't suggest that Skylight was the only developer to benefit. So that in itself suggests how misleading the BJP spin is about Vadra being a "special case". For instance the CAG report shows norms were relaxed or not clearly laid down due to which several private players benefitted and some of them, to much greater extent than Skylight. As on March 2008, 9 firms had applied for 14 commercial licenses. Skylight had applied for 1 license whereas some like M/s Picaddily Hotels Pvt Ltd and M/s A& D Estates Private Ltd. had applied for 2 and 5 licenses respectively.
That Vadra got benefits because he is the son-in-law of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi had already been rejected by the courts and this report hints at no such angle either. Here is what the Hon'ble Supreme court said when a Public Interest Litigation was filed on the very same contention was filed "In the name of the PIL (Public Interest Litigation), we will not allow you to destroy the name of a person. Merely because someone is linked to a politician, he can't be called as sinner."
The Allahabad high court had a similar view when it dismissed yet another petition in this regard and stated in its verdict that "During the course of hearing the entire thrust of arguments of learned counsel for the petitioner centred only around the political connections of Shri Vadra. During the course of arguments, serious efforts were made to show that Shri Vadra was able to acquire his assets only because of such connections." It further added that the petition was driven by a desire for publicity and that being so; there was absolutely no merit in it.
What this CAG report also confirms, is that not an inch of government land was given to Robert Vadra, unlike the benevolence shown by Mr.Modi's government in Gujarat which "gifted" over 9000 hectares of land, at throwaway prices, to one particular business group known to be close to him.
Contrary to BJP propaganda that Robert Vadra has committed a crime CAG report doesn't say so at all. In fact the CAG report fails to even point out which law was specifically violated by Skylight in its entire report. All it says is that norms could have been better defined, which sounds more like a homily. Let me give you specific examples.
One of the allegations made is that Skylight violated area norms for setting up of commercial colony. But the same CAG report says that "there were no clearly laid down norms regarding assessment of two acres and whether this was inclusive or of roads and green belt." So the question remains how did the CAG itself assess that Skylight's net area for commercial license was just 1.351 acres? If one were to subtract 0.83 acres which fell in the residential area of the 3.531 acre area applied, you find Skylight fulfils the area norm of two acres with a net area of 2.701 acres!
Another allegation by the BJP is that Skylight got the license without being financially adequate. Now, the CAG report that delves into this, admits, that there were no specific parameters to ascertain the capital adequacy and robustness of firms applying for licenses. It then also compliments the state government for resolving this situation in 2012 by issuing certain instructions on financial adequacy. Skylight had applied for the license in 2008 and unless you assume that only in the case of Skylight that these 2012 criteria should apply retrospectively or you imagine that the Directors of Skylight should have been Antaryamis and not mere businessmen who could foresee 2012 requirements in 2008, this allegation also holds no ground.
The spin about loss of thousands of crores being caused caused to the exchequer was also negatived.All that the report says is that few developers earned profit of Rs 215.21 crores over a cost of Rs 52.26 crores on sale of land. Was it illegal? The report does not point out to any illegality whatsoever. Mind you, stamp duty and other taxes would have been paid on this profit and evaluation to the government. So now the question really is that are private profits going to be looked upon as losses to the government?
The PIL before the Delhi Chief Justice had also examined the same arguments. It was alleged that several licences were issued to developers and builders for turning 21,366 acres of agricultural land into colonies without complying with the statutory and that this decision caused a "serious financial loss of Rs 3.9 lakh crore" to the exchequer. In the plea, the petitioner had claimed that allocation of licences for developing colonies was contrary to provisions of the Haryana Development and Regulation of Urban Areas Act, 1975. The plea had also sought a probe into grant of licences to change land use of agricultural plots purchased by Vadra's companies in Gurgaon.The PIL was filed against Skylight Hospitality, Robert Vadra and DLF Universal Limited among others and sought registration of criminal cases against them under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Besides, the petition sought a probe into the land deals entered into by Skylight Hospitality (Pvt) Ltd. and its subsidiaries in Rajasthan. The petition was dismissed.
Had there been such overwhelming evidence of illegality against Skylight one wonders why the BJP which prior to the general elections, claimed that they had all the evidence have done precious little despite being in power in the Centre for ten months, in Rajasthan for 15 odd months and in Haryana for a few months.
From re-gurgitating old facts with new spin and orchestrating a hit job in the media this case seems to be going the Bofors way. An FIR may ultimately be registered, out of political motives, in Haryana on some flimsy grounds and it does not take much to lodge an FIR by the police at the behest of the state government but in absence of any criminality or illegality, one wonders if that would stand the test of law and morality. This strategy of political witch-hunt had boomeranged in the past with Indira Gandhi when the wave of public sympathy turned in her favour after she was hounded and jailed by the Janata government. It would be foolhardy of the BJP to walk down the same path in the case of Robert Vadra.
(Shehzad Poonawalla is a known Congress supporter and lawyer. Views expressed are his personal, not that of CNN-IBN & IBNLive)