CBI says firm that won railways contract sold land to Lalu Prasad’s aide
CBI files show that 10 land deeds were executed by Harsh Kochhar and Vijay Kochhar of Sujata Hotels in favour of Delight Marketing Company which later transferred a plot of land to family members of Lalu Prasad, including his wife and son.
A company that won the contract to run railway hotels transferred a parcel of prime land in Patna to a close confidant of Lalu Prasad the same day the railway ministry under him began the leasing of hotels to private firms, the Central Bureau of Investigation has alleged.
HT reviewed the CBI’s internal files that said on August 25, 2005, the Railway Board allowed private companies to run railway hotels, including two in Ranchi and Puri.
The same day Sujata Hotels, which eventually won the contract for the BNR hotels in Puri and Ranchi, sold two acres of land cheaply to Delight Marketing Company controlled by Sarala Gupta, the wife of former Union minister of corporate affairs Prem Chand Gupta who is a member of Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and a close confidant of his, it said.
The CBI files showed that 10 land deeds were executed by Harsh Kochhar and Vijay Kochhar of Sujata Hotels in favour of Delight Marketing Company which later transferred the plot to family members of Lalu Prasad, including his wife Rabri Devi and son and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi for Rs 62 lakhs.
The CBI said the value of the land was no less than at Rs 90 crore at prevailing market price.
Federal agents searched the homes and properties of Lalu and his family on Friday as part of investigations into alleged misconduct in giving out contracts for the railway hotels. The raids were carried out at 12 locations in five cities a day after the CBI filed cases against Lalu, his wife Rabri Devi and son and deputy Bihar chief minister Tejashwi, among others.
A CBI source, citing a noting on a file by the then chairman railway board, that Lalu directly monitored the contract procedure and even tweaked eligibility criteria that allowed Sujata Hotels to bid for the two hotels.
“OSD to MR (Minister of Railway, Lalu Yadav) rang up and informed that MR has desired that proposal for budget hotels, including for the one for which advertisement has been given in papers, be withdrawn till the policy in this regard is finalised. Necessary action maybe kindly taken,” said the noting on August 26, 2006.
CBI sources told HT that 17 bidding forms were issued but only two, including that of Sujata Hotels, were received.
HT could not immediately reach those mentioned in the story as they are currently being investigated by the CBI. Their phones remained unreachable.
Here is a timeline of events leading up to Friday’s raids:
September 18, 2001: Railway board decides to transfer complete management of catering services, including railway hotels, to IRCTC
March 3, 2004: Indian Railways signs memorandum of understanding with IRCTC detailing the modalities of transfer of management of static and mobile catering to IRCTC
May 2004: Lalu Prasad becomes railway minister
August 31, 2004: Chairman of railway board tells railway board that “only catering managed by private contractors pertaining to pantry, refreshment room should be transferred to IRCTC and department catering shall continue to remain with railway at present”
November 30, 2004: Secretary of railway board informs Yadav about the taking over of existing railway hotels in Ranchi and Puri by IRCTC
February 25, 2005: Railways informs IRCTC about the transfer of BNR hotels to IRCTC. The same day land owned by Harsh Kochhar and Vijay Kochhar of Sujata Hotels sold to Delight Marketing Company for Rs1.47Cr, less than the prevailing market rate
August 25, 2005: Secretary of railway board sends to Lalu minutes of the board meeting related to transfer of hotels in Ranchi and Puri
July 10, 2006: Director IRCTC moves proposal for development of BNR hotels through Private- Public Partnership
November 03, 2006: Advertisement seeking bids from private contractors published
November 13, 2006: Director IRCTC amends the eligibility condition. The amendment allows Sujata Hotels to bid for contract
November 15, 2006: Fresh advertisements issued based on amended eligibility
December 27, 2006: Sujata Hotels wins contract for the two railways (BNR) hotels in Ranchi and Puri
May 2010 - February 2014: Delight Marketing Company controlled by Sarla Gupta begins gradual transfer of land to Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi
July 5, 2017: The CBI files Regular Case