As Lalu and co face probe heat, here is what the hotel scam is and why CBI conducted raids today
The CBI today carried out searches at 12 locations after registering a corruption case against RJD supremo and former Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family members including his son Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav. The searches started at seven in the morning and were spread out at 12 locations in Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar and Gurugram.
According to the CBI, the case is of criminal conspiracy (120-B), cheating (420) under IPC and corruption. Between 2004 and 2014, a conspiracy was hatched in pursuance of which BNR hotels of Indian Railways located at Puri and Ranchi were first transferred to the IRCTC and later on for its operations, maintenance and upkeep, it was given on lease to a private firm Sujata Hotel Pvt Ltd based in Patna. Allegation is that during this process, tender process was rigged and manipulated and the conditions were tweaked to help the private party (Sujata Hotel).
In return, three acre land in western Patna was given to Delight Marketing which is known to the family of Lalu Yadav at a very low cost and subsequently between the period 2010 to 2014, this land was further transferred to another company Lara Projects owned by family members of Lalu Yadav. This transfer also took place at a very low price. Whereas the land was valued at 32 crore as per the circle rate, it was transferred to merely 65 lakh to Lara Projects.
The case was registered Lalu, his wife Rabri Devi, son Tejashwi Yadav and Sarla Gupta, wife of Prem Chand Gupta, former union minister. Others named as accused in the FIR include Vijay Kochhar, Vinay Kochhar, both directors of Sujata Hotels and owner of Chanakya Hotel, Delight marketing company, now known as Lara Projects and the then IRCTC Managing Director PK Goel.
In 2001, a decision was taken to handover management of catering services of Indian Railways, including its hotels to IRCTC. Two such hotels namely BNR Hotels in Ranchi and Puri were also identified and a MoU was signed between the Railways and IRCTC on March 19, 2004. Lalu Yadav, the then railway minister, entered into criminal conspiracy with owners of Sujata hotels, Sarla Gupta, wife of his close associate Prem chand Gupta (an RJD MP in Rajya Sabha) and IRCTC officials for ‘undue pecuniary advantage to himself and others’.
It is alleged that Vinay Kochhar on February 25, 2005 sold commercial property in the form of three acres of land in Patna through 10 sale deeds for Rs 1.47 crore to Delight marketing in which Sarla Gupta was a director as a front benami holder on behalf of Lalu. The land was sold to the company at a price which was below circle rates and market rates and was falsely shown as agriculture land to evade substantial stamp duty.
It was disclosed during the preliminary enquiry of the CBI that the land was sold by the Kochhars to Delight and the payment for the same was arranged ‘surreptitiously’ by the company in the form of investment of Delight through Ahluwali contractors and its promoter Bikramjeet Singh Ahluwalia. On the day when the sale deeds were executed by the Kochhars in favour of DMCL on February 25, 2005, the Railway Board on the same day informed IRCTC about its decision for transfer of BNR hotels to IRCTC on ‘as is where is basis’. The BNR hotels were transferred to Sujata Hotels through a rigged and manipulated tender process managed by PK Goel, the then MD IRCTC.
As per the CBI enquiry, Indian Railways sought bids for developing, operating and maintaining Rail Ratna Hotels on September 16, 2006. To ‘restrict’ competition for BNR hotels in Ranchi and Puri, the IRCTC officials issued a corrigendum making a reference about commencement of sale for bid documents for BNR hotels, it alleged. The conditions were further tweaked through another corrigendum in order to make Sujata Hotel contender for the bid.
Yadav, as Railway Minister, according to the CBI, was aware about the whole process and was keeping a track of the tender proceedings. It surfaced while over 15 bid documents were received for both the hotels, IRCTC has no records of bidders other than Sujata Hotels. It is also alleged that with an intention to render undue pecuniary gains to Sujata hotels, bid of another hotel was deliberately and unreasonably given low marks under technical evaluation. As a result, Sujata Hotel remained the only bidder in financial evaluation and was qualified.
After the tender was awarded to Sujata Hotel, the ownership of Delight marketing also changed hands from Sarla Gupta to Rabri Devi and Tejaswi Yadav between 2010 and 2014. By this time Lalu had demitted the office of Railway Minister.
The value of property which was sold by Kochhars to Delight Marketing at 1.47 crore in 2005 had spiralled to Rs 32.5 crore as per circle rate and Rs 94 crore as per market rate. The shares of a company having a networth of Rs 32.5 crore was transferred by the family member of P C Gupta to the family members of Lalu Prasad Yadav for a nominal amount of Rs 64 lakh.