Friday, September 19, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


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SC tightens noose on Maya
Directs CBI to book ex-CM, others in Taj Corridor case
S.S. Negi
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, September 18
The Supreme Court today directed the CBI to register FIR against former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, her Cabinet colleague Naseemuddin Siddiqui and six top officials of the Centre and UP for their alleged role in the Rs 175-crore Taj Heritage project scam.

They have been accused by the CBI of gross violation of rules and court orders for maintaining environmental balance around the Taj Mahal while sanctioning the project.

Besides the registration of the FIR against the six officers, a Bench comprising Mr Justice M.B. Shah and Mr Justice B.N. Agrawal also directed the Centre and the UP Government to hold departmental inquiries against them, which should be completed within four months.

The six officers are: a former Union Environment Secretary, Mr K.C. Mishra, Mr S.C. Bali, Managing Director of the National Project Construction Corporation (NPCC), a Central Government agency, a former UP Chief Secretary, Mr B.S. Bagga, its former Principal Secretary (Environment) Mr R.K. Sharma, Mr P.L. Punia, Principal Secretary to the then Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, and the state’s former Environment Secretary, Mr V.K. Gupta.

The court said the FIR should also include the names of any other person found involved in the scam.

The direction was issued by the court after perusing the CBI reports, filed in three phases on August 18, September 12 and today, on the investigation done by the agency so far into the alleged violation of law in sanctioning the project for which an amount of Rs 17 crore was released by keeping at bay all norms and rules last year. A second instalment of Rs 20 crore was also sanctioned in the same manner, but the money could not be released due to the court’s intervention, the report said.

Describing the whole process followed by the Mayawati government for clearing the project as “serious irregularity”, the court said, “To investigate the matter against Ms Mayawati and Mr Siddiqui, the CBI would take appropriate steps under law.”

“The CBI has to collect material evidence against them and investigate it further,” the court observed, indicating that the agency had not been able to find any of the assets of Mr Siddiqui.

After going through the reports, the Bench said that the agency was able to find only “visible assets” of the six officials and directed it to probe their “invisible assets”.

While ordering the Centre and the UP Government to appoint inquiry officers to hold departmental inquiries against the six officers within a week, the court said, “It will be open for the Centre and the state to suspend them in accordance with the rules.”

The court made it clear that the further inquiry by the CBI would be under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and all relevant laws relating to environment protection.

The court rejected the objection of Mr Siddiqui’s counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan about revealing the names of Ms Mayawati and his client even before the registration of the FIRs, saying that it had only ordered further probe against them by the CBI and nothing more than that. “They (the CBI) have to go ahead in accordance with the law,” Mr Justice Shah said.

Additional Solicitor-General Altaf Ahmed, appearing for the CBI, told the court that the agency would send notes to the Union Cabinet Secretary and the Chief Secretary of UP within a week for follow-up action against the six officials as directed.

Earlier reading the relevant portion of the CBI report, Mr Ahmed said Mr Siddiqui, Mr Mishra and Mr Gupta, had been found guilty of “interpolating” certain remarks in the files relating to the project to “cover up their role” after the court had ordered the probe. “This fact has been established by handwriting experts of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory,” he said.

According to the report, as read out in the court, the Mayawati government had not bothered to obtain a techno-feasibility report and a cost-estimate report of the project and Mr Bagga was informed by her Principal Secretary Punia that there were instructions from the CM that “tatkal karya prarambh karein (start the work immediately).”

When the final orders were passed by the Chief Minister, the files were not “routed” through the Chief Secretary, which was the norm and instead Mr Sharma had sent these directly to Ms Mayawati, the report said.

It said despite express provisions that for any project valued more than Rs 5 crore, the sanction of the Finance Committee was mandatory, the matter was never sent to the committee.

The NPCC had also shown a great hurry in starting the work and had awarded sub-contracts without inviting tenders, the CBI said.



Mayawati mum

New Delhi, September 18
Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati today declined to comment on the Supreme Court order directing the CBI to register an FIR against her and several IAS officers for alleged irregularities in the construction of Taj heritage project at Agra, saying that she would give her reaction after reading the judgement.

“I have not read the Supreme Court judgement. When I get a copy of the judgement through my lawyer, only then will I be able to give a reaction because I do not know what is written in the judgement,” she said. In Lucknow, the BSP today claimed that the investigating agency had been used as a Central tool to fix political opponents..

The CBI has all along been used as a “tool of harassment’’ by successive Central governments against their political opponents, a senior BSP leader, who requested not to be named, said.

The state Congress, on the other hand, demanded that the BJP quit the Central Government. — PTI, UNI


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