By Sharat Pradhan
Lucknow : Uttar Pradesh's new government has unearthed a scandal surrounding auction of prime land near Greater Noida close to Delhi, and a senior official said it was perpetrated by a clique close to a top Samajwadi Party leader.
A probe into the goings-on of the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corp (UPSIDC) has opened the Pandora's box on allotment of industrial land, just eight kilometres from the Delhi border. The exposure followed a calculated move by the new Mayawati administration to expose the suspected misdeeds of the previous regime.
No sooner than Mayawati's handpicked Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh named Balwinder Kumar to head UPSIDC, her government's intention became clear. Known for his uprightness and dynamism, Kumar got cracking from the very first day of assuming office about 10 days ago.
What he has unearthed turned out to be an Rs.200-crore land scam, allegedly carried out by a handful of petty departmental officials with the connivance of at least two Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers who reportedly were close to former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's man Friday Amar Singh.
Kumar told IANS: "A very cursory look into the land allotment files of Tronica City near Greater Noida aroused suspicion; and just as we went deeper, it was like opening a can of worms."
Five heads have already rolled, and if the government takes a sterner view, two lady IAS officers could get the axe as well. The five are: UPSIDC regional manager A.K. Trivedi, accounts manager S.R. Arun, project officer V.C. Tomar, chief project manager A.K. Asthana and chief engineer Arun Misra.
The corporation's deputy managing director K. Dhanalakshmi and then principal secretary (small industries) Zohra Chatterjee have been spared for now.
The entire procedure adopted for allotment of bulk land both for industrial and housing projects was allegedly "tailor made" for certain pre-determined beneficiaries, according to the preliminary investigation.
According to a report submitted to the government by Kumar, the modus operandi was quite smooth.
"It began with the release of advertisement for auction of land only in newspapers that were hardly in circulation in Uttar Pradesh. On top of that, the size and format of the advertisement was so obscure that it was intended to go unnoticed, so that the auction bids would remain confined only to a select few," Kumar said.
"The stage-managed auction has caused losses at least to the tune of Rs.200 crore to the corporation," he claimed.
"After all, the highest bid for group housing plots touched a paltry Rs.3,825 per sq metre while that of industrial and commercial plots did not go beyond Rs. 6,731 sq metres, as against an estimated market worth (by Tronica City Manufacturers Association) of Rs.12,000-17,000 per sq metre and Rs.25,000-30,000 per sq metre respectively," the report added.
It was an open secret that allotment of all prime bulk land in Uttar Pradesh's National Capital Region including Noida, Greater Noida or in UPSIDC developed pockets could never be done without a nod from Amar Singh, say senior officials.
Apart from being the Samajwadi Party general secretary, he was the all-powerful chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Development Council. He enjoyed the status of a cabinet minister with overriding powers over all industry-related departments and undertakings.
But Amar Singh's name does not figure in any official document relating to shady land allotments.