M A I N   N E W S

CBI raids houses of top IAS, IFS officers
By Tribune Team of Reporters

Chandigarh, April 13
The top echelon of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today conducted raids at the residences of two senior Punjab cadre IAS officers, Mr S C Agarwal and Mr K B S Sidhu, and two Indian Forest Service officers, Mr Harsh Kumar and Mr Jagjit Singh Samundri as a part of investigations into the Forest Hill Golf Resort case. Raids were also carried out at the resort and the Sector 10 residence of its owner Col B.S Sandhu (retd).

Mr SC Agarwal is currently posted as Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce, while Mr Sidhu is the Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayats. Mr Harsh Kumar is a 1987 batch IFS officer currently on deputation as General Manager, Punjab State Forest Development Corporation from the Punjab Forest Department. Mr JS Samundari is a 1985 batch IFS officer currently on long leave.

Sources in the CBI said prior clearance had been obtained from the Director, Mr Vijay Shankar, to register cases against the people involved in this scam. The CBI Director, who is at present away to Jakarta, had given his consent to register a case at the beginning of this month. Initially, the CBI had named seven or eight officers, including a nationally known high-profile IAS officer, who has since retired. This list was later pruned after the law branch of the CBI removed the names of the retired officers and also those who were not directly involved. In its preliminary inquiry, the CBI found that Mr Sidhu and Mr Agarwal, during their stints at Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA), repeatedly ignored the written objections on the files, sent by the juniors with regard to the serious violations in Forest Hill Golf Course, said the CBI inquiry.

After completing the preliminary inquiry sometime last month, the Chandigarh CBI officials sent the file to the CBI headquarters at Delhi. Subsequently, the CBI decided to register cases under Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and other section of the Violation of the Environment and Forest Acts. CBI in its report opines that the IAS officers should have stopped the violations by acting on the objections of their juniors. The action of the CBI has been initiated against these officers for either wilfully remaining silent or choosing to ignore the notings of their juniors. Sources in the CBI further said that a formal permission to prosecute the officers shall be required before filing of a chargesheet in court.

The four are being focused on as part of the investigations into the multi-crore Forest Hill Resort scam. The Rs 100 crore Forest Hill Golf Resort and Country Club was allegedly constructed on forest land at Karoran village on the north-western outskirts of Chandigarh in complete violation of all norms. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had asked the CBI in October 2004 to form a special team.

The raids began at 7.30 this morning. While a CBI team raided the Sector 19 residence of Mr Sidhu, another team landed on the Sector 5 residence of Mr Agarwal. Mr Agarwal was away to Mumbai but the CBI team waited at the gates throughout the day. CBI teams also swooped at the Sector 34 residence of Harsh Kumar and the farm house of J.S Samundari on the Chandigarh-Patiala Road. Mr Samundri was also not at his residence.

Sources added that Harsh Kumar was DFO (Working Plan) when he got an inquiry marked against the Forest Hill Resort in 2003. First the inquiry report was given against the Resort but in the second report the IFS officer had reportedly tried to cover up the violation.

In 1996, Mr Samundri, who was then DFO, Ropar, had forwarded the application of Col BS Sandhu (retd) for change of land use to the State Government. The request was, however, turned down by the state government then.

The construction of the controversial Forest Hill Golf Resort was embroiled in controversy in 2003-2004 following reports that officials had allegedly connived with the owners to circumvent strict forest and environment laws and allowed construction of a full fledged golf course coupled with a club house.

Several top Punjab politicians, bureaucrats, police officials and other influential persons were given honorary membership of the elite golf resort free of cost allegedly to get clearances for the project.

Among the names that figured on the list of free memberships were present Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, several of his ministers and aides, judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and dozens of top IAS and police officers. The Punjab and Haryana High Court here had ordered the closure of the club, taking suo-moto notice of media reports on the building and the members of the club. This was partially opened by an order of the Supreme Court.



CM objects to CBI raids
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 13
The Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, has meanwhile expressed strong reservations over what he called, “the manner in which the CBI has conducted the raids”. He said he would take up the matter with the Government of India and lodge the Punjab Government’s protest.

Almost giving a clean chit to the IAS officers whose houses have been raided, Captain Amarinder Singh said: “Aggarwal and Sidhu are among the finest officers in the Punjab bureaucracy. CBI action on them will have a demoralising effect on the entire decision-making machinery”. This he said will impede the development activities in the state as every officer will try to avoid taking prompt decisions.

The Punjab Government, sources close to the Chief Minister said, was apprehensive about the CBI taking all documents with the signatures of Mr. Sidhu and Mr. Aggarwal into their possession which in turn will cause a big setback to the various mega projects, delaying them in the process.

Col B.S Sandhu (Retd), owner of the Forest Hill Golf Resort, said the CBI raids on his house lasted for about three to four hours. But the CBI did not take away any documents pertaining to the resort. He also denied having any links with the bureaucrats on whom the CBI has focussed.


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