Two days ago, surprisingly a trial court in Jodhpur ordered a probe on the former Minister Arun Shourie in an 18-year-old (2002) Cabinet-approved disinvestment of Laxmi Vilas Hotel in Udaipur. The Judge on September 17, 2020, passed orders against the closure of the case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). When was the First Information Report (FIR) registered? August 13, 2014. Yes, I repeat August 13, 2014, when the CBI was under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is a million-rupee question as to why the CBI under Modi Government registered a case against the hotel sales approved by Vajpayee’s Cabinet… Amar Prem’s Rajesh Khanna would have sung… Yeh kya hua, kaise hua… The FIR, which did not mention any names, said that the case was registered based on the information given by the Department of Disinvestment. At that time, this Department of Disinvestment was under the Finance Ministry headed by Arun Jaitley. By then Shourie had started criticizing Modi. Was it done by the CBI to put pressure on Arun Shourie?
Who played the mischief?
Is it pettiness on part of the Modi Government, who played along with the mischief, or the crookedness of Jaitley? Now the situation has gone out of control with the Judge surprisingly rejecting the CBI’s second closure report. The Judge has even ordered the takeover of the hotel by the State Government! It is a question in law as to how a trial court Judge handling the Prevention of Corruption of Act decide in such a way. Arun Shourie on September 17 told media that he will file a revision petition in Rajasthan High Court.
Why did the CBI decide to register a case after 18 years of a Cabinet approved the decision, which was ratified in so many courts? More importantly, why the CBI under Narendra Modi registered a case against the decision approved by Vajpayee’s Cabinet?
Shourie had rebutted in 2014 itself
Six years ago – weeks after the CBI case registration – in September 2014 – Arun Shourie wrote a detailed article on the disinvestment of this Hotel in Udaipur. In a lengthy article, in a point-by-point rebuttal, Shourie wondered how CBI came to a conclusion that the Hotel was valued at Rs.151 crores when it was actually sold for Rs.7.5 crores. The detailed article said that the hotel’s annual revenue was only Rs. Two crores and expenses crossed more than Rs. Three crores, incurring a loss of more than One Crore per year for a long time. The hotel has only 55 rooms (and at that time the room rent was Rs.1900 per day) and the occupancy rate was only 41% and in total, the 29 acre land including the lake – a major portion was barred from further construction by state laws on environment and coastal regulation zone rules. The Hotel was acquired by Bharat Hotels Group through a bid with the approval of the Cabinet. Shourie reminds in the article that at that time the Law Minister was Arun Jaitley whose department approved the files thrice. Bharat Hotel promoter, the late Lalit Suri was that time a BJP MP and a close friend of Jaitley. His wife Jyotsna Suri, who is now running the affairs of the Hotel was also a close friend of Jaitley. Here is the link to the detailed article of Arun Shourie published in Indian Express on the surprising move of CBI during the Modi regime against the decision approved by the Vajpayee Government.
Why question an ABV cabinet decision?
This case registration by CBI was the last straw in the friendship between Narendra Modi and his decades-long friend and senior colleague Arun Shourie. Though the case was engineered by the late Arun Jaitley, Modi could have reprimanded the CBI and prevented it from registering the FIR, which has now led to this ugly situation. Though Shourie’s name did not figure in the FIR, he was provoked by CBI questioning many of the officers who worked under him for 18-year-old Hotel disinvestment approved by the Cabinet. Many cases against the Vajpayee Government’s Disinvestment of several Public Sector Undertakings including this Hotel sale were ratified in many High Courts and the Supreme Court. Even the UPA Government that followed, under the leadership of Congress, did not find any faults in the disinvestment decisions. Then why rake this over the coals again?
Who is calling the shots?
Why did the CBI decide to register a case after 18 years of a Cabinet approved the decision, which was ratified in so many courts? More importantly, why the CBI under Narendra Modi registered a case against the decision approved by Vajpayee’s Cabinet? Is it to just to arm-twist or frighten Arun Shourie? Mr. Modi, you can’t take some heat? Arun Shourie is not the kind of person to fall for such tactics.
CBI must act
The matter has now spiralled out of control after the surprising judicial order. Now it is for the CBI to question the Judge’s surprising order in higher legal forums, although Shourie has declared that he will file a revision petition in the High Court. This reeks of vendetta/pettiness and is a gross abuse of power by the Narendra Modi government.