By Sanjay Kaul
Steven Spielberg's 1998 Second World War film Saving Private Ryan follows the fortunes of a group of soldiers with one mission: To bring back a soldier alive and unharmed.
For the Congress, even years after Robert Vadra shot to fame for his business dealings, he continues to be the mascot for crony corruption — which was verily the cause of the party's debacle in the last General Election. It is this stigma that severely dents the party’s prospects in a new India that is more intolerant to corruption than ever. But as it happens in the Congress, the Gandhi family is untouchable even as it remains incorrigible, and the party has to bear the shame of being Vadra’s party forever.
So what can the Congress do to salvage some respect?
The best option it has is to find a Robert Vadra in BJP, and if it can’t find one, create one!
But creativity is moored in intellect and intuition. Having fallen short in those departments, it has latched on perilously to an indulgent article published in a newspaper about a company in Gujarat that acquired land at certain valuations and attempts to link the Gujarat chief minister’s daughter to the deal. The article in question fails to identify any form of corruption and its author is on record that she is not claiming that this is a scam.
In a time of acute shortages of both strategy and tactics, statesmanship and acumen, the Congress is waving this newspaper article as a flag to rally its troops to attack BJP on charges of corruption.
However, the war cry is withering in the face of facts. Let us examine why the allegations are frivolous and the political Opposition hare-brained.
Here is a brief summary of events:
-An MOU was signed between WWR and the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd for developing a wildlife resort and investing around Rs 80 crore for that purpose. WWR asked for allotment of land in Dhari Taluka of Amreli District.
-The collector of Amreli recommended the allocation of 13 different parcels of land measuring 9,94,824 square metres (around 99 hectares) on 6 December, 2008. The recommendation was made on the basis of the District Level Valuation Committee Report dated 5 December, 2008.
-Of the 13 different parcels, 10 land parcels measuring around 8,25,260 square metres were valued at Rs 60,000 per hectare and the other three measuring 1,69,564 square metres were valued at Rs 1,50,000 per hectare.
-The proposal was reviewed by the chief town planner and he recommended the allocation of land at the revised rate of Rs 1,50,000 per hectare for all 13 land parcels.
-The state-level valuation committee (SLVC) headed by Principal Secretary Finance department and comprising three other senior secretaries of the government of Guajrat and the Chief Town Planner considered the proposal in its meetings dated 14 July, 2009 and 15 December, 2009.
-The proposal was finally recommended by the SLVC on 12 January, 2010 at Rs 1,50,000 per hectare for all 13 land parcels. Thus, the total value of the 9,94,824-square-metre land was accordingly pegged at Rs 1,49,22,360.
-Since the land value was more than one crore, it was submitted to the Cabinet for approval as per the prevalent policy of the government of Gujarat.
-The proposal was made to the Cabinet with a 12 percent hike and the final value at which the land was to be given was Rs 1,67,13,043.
-The land is situated in the Patla village of Dhari taluka of Amreli district which is near Gir National Park.
-The government of Gujarat has made a recommendation to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, on 27 August, 2015 to include certain areas in the eco-sensitive zone.
-The land in Patla is part of the proposed eco sensitive zone.
-The government of Gujarat has also come out with a government resolution dated 1 July, 2015 prohibiting the construction of resorts etc within a kilometre of specified areas like Gir. Since this land falls within the eco-sensitive zone, construction restrictions apply to this land also. It has not been given any concessions and land was allotted as per the rules and regulations. No favour was done to any individual/company in this regard.
On the contrary, the government increased the cost of the 10 parcels of land from Rs 60,000 per hectare to Rs 1,50,000 per hectare. That is a clear 250 percent premium on the value of the land.
The land in question has not been spared or taken out of the proposed eco-sensitive zone. Additionally, further restrictions were imposed by way of the government resolution on construction activities in eco-sensitive zones to prevent any adverse impact on the sanctuary. Compliance has been ensured by Gujarat government.
So how was this out of line, or an alleged sweet deal?
Now let us also consider the background of the company in question:
-The Company WWR was incorporated in 2008 and promoted by Sanjay Dhanak and Sudhir Ved. Sanjay Dhanak is son of Vajubhai Dhanak, an ex-MLA from Janata Dal (later merged with the Congress) during 1989-1994 in Gujarat.
-Later, in 2009, Ved exited from the company and Harshad Mehta and his wife Naina came in his place. The application for land allocation, the land allocation by the government and private purchase of the land was done between the years 2008 and 2010.
-Afterwards, from April 2011 to September 2012, shares belonging to the Mehtas and Dhanak were purchased by Parshwa Taxchem (promoted by Daxesh Shah) and Anil Infra Plus (promoted by Amol Shah). These transactions occurred after the land was allotted and permission for establishing the resort was given.
-Anar Patel does not hold any equity in any of the above mentioned companies. Neither is she a director in any of them.
And so, to associate Anar Patel or any other family member of the chief minister of Gujarat with the company is a complete fabrication, or in simpler words, a blatant lie.
Raising the bogey of preferential land allotment is an old trick in the books of political adversaries. In spite of many attempts at smear campaigns, not one allegation against the government of Gujarat has been found to be true. The state has a proud history of probity on this account and it may be pertinent to visit this Supreme Court observation regarding the process of land allotment in Gujarat:
The Land Acquisition Act has become a fraud. It seems to have been devised by people with a sick mind who had scant regard for the welfare of the common man. It is time the Act is scrapped, But there is one state from where we do not receive any such complaints. Look at Ahmedabad which is developing but there are no complaints from that place. They have the same officers of the same cadre as in the rest of the country," the court said, adding officers from other states can train under their Gujarat counterparts.
Trying to seek equivalence to cover up its endemic weakness for corruption is not a strategy that will deliver results for the Congress unless it purges itself of the stigmata that Vadra and others of his league lend to the party. All this fulmination by its members does is remind us of another movie classic that might have a role for Vadra: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The author is a member of the BJP and a spokesperson for the party. He tweets@sanjay_kaul