DEHRADUN: The Opposition Congress created a ruckus in the Uttarakhand Assembly on the opening day of its budget session here today and accused the Centre of running away from a CBI probe into the multi-crore national highway scam to shield NHAI officials involved in it.
After the BJP came to power in March, alleged irregularities to the tune of Rs 240 crore were detected in the acquisition of land for the National Highway-74 between 2011-2016.
The Congress MLAs rushed into the Well repeatedly to demand a debate on the issue under Rule 310 which means having a discussion in the House by suspending all other business listed for the day forcing Speaker Premchand Aggarwal to adjourn the proceedings for 15 minutes initially and then extending it to 30 minutes.
As soon as the speaker assumed the Chair to preside over the day’s proceedings, Leader of Opposition Indira Hridayesh rose from her seat to draw his attention to her notice for a debate on the subject under rule.
The speaker asked the opposition members to not insist on a debate under Rule 310 as the Question Hour was important with many questions of public interest listed for the day.
Hridayesh tried to convince the chair that the issue was very important as a huge scam which may run into nearly Rs 500 crore had been detected in the construction of the NH-74 and a CBI probe was still awaited despite Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat’s recommendation for it.
“Shying away from a CBI probe at a time when their own chief minister has recommended it and sent two reminders to the Centre to expedite the same may be costly for the BJP government which never tires of flaunting its zero-tolerance to corruption,” she said.
Hridayesh tried to convince the chair that the issue was very important and accused the Centre of not only dragging its feet over the CM’s recommendation for a CBI probe, but also trying to protect NHAI officials named in an FIR in connection with it.
The Leader of Opposition read Gadkari’s letter which states that such an action will adversely affect the morale of NHAI officials and impede the progress of projects taken up by the authority in the state.
Taking exception to the “threatening tone” of the letter which also said that if the state government went ahead with its action the NHAI will have to re-examine usefulness of taking up more projects in the state, she said it reflected a clear lack of political will on part of the powers-that-be to institute a CBI probe into the scam.
Speaking in favour of the admissibility of her notice for a debate on the issue under Rule 310, Hridayesh said it was a huge scam running into hundreds of crores of rupees and the dubious manner in which the Centre was coming to the defence of NHAI officials and running away from a CBI probe made it look “murkier”.
She accused the Centre of mounting undue pressure on the state to withdraw action against those involved in the huge scam terming it as an attack on the country’s federal structure.
Hridayesh also criticised the state government for transferring Kumaon Commissioner D Senthil Pandiyan whose report forms the basis of the state government’s recommendation for a CBI probe saying an honest official was being harassed for exposing corruption.
She said if the state government does not go for a CBI probe into the scam now it will be in conflict with its own claim of having a zero-tolerance policy to corruption.
Hridayesh also slammed the Centre for sending Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi himself to Uttarakhand High Court to represent the NHAI officials who had sought withdrawal of their names from an FIR lodged in connection with the scam.
“The Union minister’s threatening tone that action against NHAI officials named in the FIR will adversely affect their morale and prompt the authority to re-examine the usefulness of taking up more projects in the state is an assault on the country’s federal structure,” the Leader of Opposition said.
Accusing the Centre of deliberately ignoring the recommendation of an elected chief minister, she asked “If you are clean why are you trying to suppress it?”
Echoing Hridayesh, Congress MLA Karan Mahra said the chief minister’s recommendation for a CBI probe into the scam was a welcome step but the Centre’s unwillingness to act on his recommendation is highly condemnable.
Speaking on behalf of the state government on the notice, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prakash Pant gave the background of the case informing the House about the promptness with which the chief minister had acted in the matter.
He said the chief minister had issued a notification on March 25 recommending a CBI probe into the scam besides immediately suspending six state government officials for their suspected role in it.