A special court at Jodhpur directed the CBI to file cases against the former Union Minister Arun Shourie and the then disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal over the sale of the ITDC hotel allegedly at a loss of Rs 244 crore to the exchequer. Apart from these hotels the CBI Court also asked to file cases against three other associates who were involved in the sale of Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in Udaipur about two decades back during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government at the Centre.
The prime suspect Shourie was the minister in charge of divestment when the property was sold to a private company named Bharat Hotel Ltd which was earlier owned by the public sector India Tourism Development Corporation.
Judge Puran Kumar Sharma mentioned that the court remembered Shourie’s background as a journalist who had himself spoken against corruption in many of his debates and discussions. This act showed his double standards on the issue of corruption. The order passed on Wednesday, 16th September rejected the closure report of CBI submitted for the case in August 2019 and asked them to reinvestigate the matter.
He also ordered an immediate attachment of Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel by the district magistrate and stated that the hotel was to remain under the custody of the Rajasthan government till the matter was disposed of. The other three associates attached to the case along with Shourie and Baijal were Ashish Guha (Managing Director of Lazard India Ltd), valuer Kantilal Karamsey of Kantilal Karamsey & Company, and Jyotsana Suri (Director of Bharat hotel Ltd). The five suspects will be summoned to appear before the court.
The Hotel was sold at such a low price of Rs 7.52 crore and during the CBI investigation, it was valued at a price of Rs 252 crore which means that the hotel was sold at a loss of Rs 244 crore to the exchequer. The case was registered on 13th August 2014 that some unknown officials from the Department of Disinvestment in collusion with a private hotelier renovated the Laxmi Vilas Palace of Udaipur around 1999-2000 and then sold it at a passing price.
The special court disapproved of the CBI for filing a closure report of these cases despite its primary findings that the property was wrongly sold to the exchequers. The Judge commented that this was disgraceful on the part of CBI and that the whole nation looks up to the agency for its efficient investigations. Appointing the district magistrate as the receiver of the property, the Judge stated that he would present a report on its movable and immovable assets within a period of 3 months and will also arrange that the hotel is in the hands of a central government institution with experience of this industry.
The Judge directed that the accounts should be submitted to the court on a quarterly basis, i.e. once every 3 months. The court also stated that the officers involved in the disinvestment process were IAS officers and were not expected to have any idea about the actual worth of the property like this in Udaipur city.
The Judge interpreted that “The preliminary investigation validated the accusations and revealed that Pradip Baijal had misused his powers and position and entered into a conspiracy with Guha, Karamsey and Bharat Hotel Ltd.” Accordingly, the Kantilal Karamsey & Company valued the land at just Rs 45 per square feet whereas the actual market price was going at the rate of Rs 500-1000 per square feet for the commercial plots, it said citing the preliminary reports. It also claimed that Shourie and Baijal would have taken the decision of appointing the valuers.