Politics

Citing Alleged Corruption, Congress Asks If Venkaiah Naidu Is Fit to Be VP

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh raised four questions to Venkaiah Naidu, two about recent events and two about cases from 15 years ago.

Venkaiah Naidu. Credit: PTI

Venkaiah Naidu. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Digging into files dating back up to 15 years as well as recent developments barely a month old, the Congress today posed some probing questions to BJP leader and NDA’s vice-presidential candidate Venkaiah Naidu. The opposition party alleged that he and his kin have been involved in four instances of suspected wrongdoing.

Naidu is pitted opposite Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who is the candidate chosen by 18 opposition parties, in the vice-presidential poll scheduled for August 5.

Noting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often talked about probity in public life, accountability to people and transparency, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said as per these commitments, “those holding the highest public offices must fully disclose their ‘interests’ as also ‘special treatment’ in shape of state largesse for themselves and for their kith and kin.” In this backdrop, he said the conduct of Naidu was called into question. Ramesh went on to pose four questions to Naidu.

The first question pertained to the Telangana government in June this year exempting the Swarna Bharat Trust, where Naidu’s daughter Deepa Venkat is a managing trustee, from paying various charges amounting to over Rs 2 crore. “Is it not a fact that on June 20, 2017, the Telangana government issued an order that has been kept secret, exempting the Swarna Bharat Trust of Shri Venkaiah Naidu’s daughter from paying various charges amounting to more than Rs 2 crore to the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority? Is it not a fact that such an exemption has no precedent and it has been done because his daughter is the managing trustee of the organisation?” the Congress leader asked.

The Congress also circulated a copy of a newspaper item that appeared in The Hindu and stated that the order to exempt the trust from payment was issued by the municipal administration and urban development department a month ago, on June 20, but was not made public on the state government’s website for reasons unknown.

He also posed a query relating to the Telangana government placing a huge order of vehicles with a company owned by Naidu’s son. “Is it not a fact that in July 2014, the Telangana government placed an order amounting to about Rs 271 crore for the purchase of vehicles for the police from two companies – Harsha Toyota owned by Shri Venkaiah Naidu’s son and Himanshu Motors owned by the son of the Telangana chief minister? Is it not a fact that such an order was placed in contravention of all rules and without even floating a tender?” Ramesh asked.

He also circulated an order issued by the government of Telangana on July 5, 2014, whereby an administrative sanction was given to the director general of police of the state to purchase 3,883 vehicles and a copy of a news item issued by a portal that alleged a scam in the supply of these vehicles.

The other two queries were from over a decade ago. One of these pertained to the allotment of land to a trust, of which Naidu was chairman, in 2004. The query of the Congress leader was, “Is it not a fact that on 25.09.2004, Kushabhau Thakre Memorial Trust with Shri Venkaiah Naidu as chairman was allotted 20 acres of land in Shahpura, Bhopal valuing at a few hundred crore rupees, lease deed of which was registered on 06.01.2007?”

He elaborated on the issue by posing several related questions. “Is it not a fact that this land was allotted by BJP government of Madhya Pradesh for a pittance of one time premium of Rs 25 lakh and a yearly rent of Re 1? Is it not a fact that even the ‘Land Use’ was changed from ‘Residential & Forestry’ to ‘Commercial’ as an act of favouritism by BJP government? Is it not a fact that all this was done without inviting an application in public domain in a completely arbitrary and whimsical fashion? Is it not a fact that Supreme Court of India quashed this allotment on 06.04.2011 in a PIL and passed stringent strictures of ‘political favouritism’ and cancelled the allotment of land?”

Ramesh also circulated to the media a copy of an order from the Supreme Court of 2011. A bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly had held that in the case of the allotment, “unfortunately, the Division Bench of the High Court overlooked that the entire process of reservation of land and allotment thereof was fraught with grave illegality and was nothing but a blatant act of favoritism on the  part of functionaries of the State and summarily dismissed the writ petition.”

The apex court had also stated that the change of land use category went against provisions of the Bhopal Development Plan.

“As a matter of fact, the exercise undertaken for the change of land use, which resulted in modification of the development plan was an empty formality because land had been allotted to respondent No.5 almost two years prior to the issue of notification under Section 23-A (1)(a) and the objects for which respondent No.5 was registered as a trust have no nexus with the purpose for which modification of development plan can be effected under that section. Therefore, there is no escape from the conclusion that modification of the development plan was ultra vires the provisions of Section 23-A(1)(a) of the Act,” the court had held.

Finally, Ramesh also raised the issue of whether or not Naidu was accused in a land grab case. “Is it not a fact that Shri Venkaiah Naidu, the then BJP national president, was accused of grabbing 4.95 acres of land in Andhra Pradesh reserved for the ‘Poor and the Destitute’? Is it not a fact that on August 17, 2002; Shri Venkaiah Naidu was forced to return this 4.95 acres of land after public embarrassment and accusations of ‘wrongdoing’?” he asked, as he also released a number of annexures on these subjects.

Ramesh also circulated a copy of a news item which stated that Naidu was compelled to return the land in the face of strong protests from the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The article stated that the Congress had termed as “unethical” Naidu’s alleged attempt to “grab 4.95 acres in 1978” when he was the legislator for Udaygiri in Nellore district, since he was drawing an annual salary of Rs 24,000 and already owned another 3.28 acres of land. Naidu had subsequently claimed that he was “landless” and was ignorant about the events around him, the note said.

Responding to Ramesh’s allegations, Naidu, until recently Union minister for information and broadcasting and urban development, told PTI that all these things have been answered and mentioned earlier.

“Some people went to court, and the court has also dismissed it. I feel really sorry that they could stoop down to this level in this election also,” he told reporters.

Union minister and senior BJP leader Ananth Kumar said whatever allegations Ramesh had levelled are “baseless and unsubstantiated.”