NEW DELHI — Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and her son Dushyant Singh conspired with a former highways ministry official Khajan Singh to receive illegal financial benefits for Dushyant from a land deal, a petition filed in the Supreme Court (SC) by Jaipur-based Advocate Srijana Shrestha has alleged.
The land deal dates back to 2010 when the highways ministry acquired land for the widening of National Highway 3 near Raje's Dholpur Royal Palace by paying Dushyant approximately Rs 1.77 crore after he claimed ownership of the land. The Jaipur-based advocate insists that the land which Dushyant claimed as his own was actually government land and Khajan Singh and Raje conspired to ensure the latter's son gets compensation for the land being acquired by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
"Showing government land as one's own and getting compensation for that is, according to me, (a case of) corruption," Shrestha summed up her allegation thus while speaking about her petition in an interview with HuffPost India.
Raje's office was unavailable for comment. An official source in the Rajasthan government said many officials in the Chief Minister's Office were on leave due to Diwali to explain why a reply could not be arranged. HuffPost India will update this report if and when a reply is received.
Prior to her SC petition, Shrestha first filed a written complaint with the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in April 2013, requesting registration of an FIR and a probe. Her complaint stated that Khajan Singh conspired with Raje to "dishonestly and fraudulently give illegal pecuniary advantage" to Dushyant in the land deal by "misusing" their official positions. However, the CBI did not act upon it and Srestha filed a petition in a Special CBI court in New Delhi with a request to direct the agency to probe the matter.
In April 2015, the Special CBI court dismissed the petition, stating that it was not empowered under section 156 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code to order an investigation in the absence of a prior sanction from the government under section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Prior sanction is required from the government to prosecute officials who face serious accusations of corruption. On its part, the CBI said in a court submission that it had "closed" the complaint as it found it "devoid of merits".
Shrestha then approached the Delhi High Court in August 2015 with her request of a CBI probe into the land sale and purchase. She sought a stay on the Special CBI court's order arguing that "no sanction is required at a pre-cognisance stage". However, the High Court agreed with the Special CBI Court in an order in August 2018 and dismissed the request to stay the special court's order, effectively negating the possibility of a CBI probe in the land deal.
Consequently, in late September, she petitioned the Supreme Court through Advocate Sunil Fernandes, requesting that the High Court order be set aside and an FIR by the CBI be registered as well as a probe carried out. Her petition terms the High Court order as "ex facie illegal, contrary to the settled law" and one that has "purported to dismiss the allegations on grounds which are completely untenable in law".
Late last week, a division bench of the SC, comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice KM Joseph, sent notices to Raje, Dushyant, Singh and other respondents in the case, seeking their replies to the claims in the petition.
When asked what motivated her to take her fight to the Supreme Court, given that the lower courts and agencies have not been favourable towards her petition, Shrestha said, "I trust the justice system. I am a lawyer myself. If lower courts do not give a favourable judgement then upper court will take a considered view after going through the finer details. I think the SC will understand that if somewhere corruption has been done, then letting that person go scot-free simply on the point of prior sanction is not right."
Since the point of prior sanction was often repeated in lower courts while turning down her request of a probe, she said, "Who will give (prior) sanction? Both in the state and centre, there are BJP governments. Then how can they give sanctions against themselves? I had this in mind and the court (SC) may have also understood these things while giving notices."
When asked whether she had any political motivations behind filing the petition, given that it was coming up in the middle of what many believe to be a difficult election campaign in Rajasthan for Raje, Shrestha claimed, "I keep away from political persons. I have no political interest."
Among the key legal grounds in Shrestha's SC petition to contest the argument about the requirement of a prior sanction to probe Raje is that she was a Leader of Opposition when the alleged offence was committed in 2010 and she has since then ceased to be in that position, just as Khajan Singh is no longer the 'Competent Authority' in Dholpur for carrying out land acquisition as in 2010.
The apex court is yet to conclude adjudicating the matter.