A Delhi court today summoned RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, his wife Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi Yadav and others as accused in the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) scam. Special Judge Arvind Kumar directed them to appear before the court on August 31 in a case related to alleged irregularities in granting operational contract of two IRCTC hotels to a private firm. The CBI, which had on April 16 filed the charge sheet in the case, had said that there were enough evidence against the accused.
The CBI had earlier informed the court that sanction has been procured from the authorities concerned to prosecute Additional Member of Railway Board B K Agarwal, who was then the group general manager of the IRCTC. Besides Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family members, former union minister Prem Chand Gupta and his wife Sarla Gupta, Agarwal, then managing director of IRCTC P K Goyal and then IRCTC director Rakesh Saxena were also named in the charge sheet.
The other names in the charge sheet include then group general managers of IRCTC V K Asthana and R K Goyal, and Vijay Kochhar, Vinay Kochhar, both directors of Sujata Hotels and owners of Chanakya Hotel. Delight marketing company, now known as Lara Projects, and Sujata Hotels Private Limited have also been named as accused companies in the charge sheet. The CBI had registered a case in July last year and carried out searches at 12 locations in Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar and Gurugram in connection with the case. The charges in the case include criminal conspiracy (120-B), cheating (420) under IPC and corruption, the central probe agency had said.
According to the charge sheet, between 2004 and 2014, a conspiracy was hatched in pursuance of which BNR hotels of Indian Railways, located at Puri and Ranchi, were first transferred to the IRCTC and later, for its operations, maintenance and upkeep, it was given on lease to Sujata Hotel Private Limited, which is based in Patna. It is alleged that the tender process was rigged and manipulated, and the conditions were tweaked to help the private party (Sujata Hotels). It also claimed that Vinay Kochhar on February 25, 2005 sold commercial property in the form of three acres of land in Patna through 10 sale deeds for Rs 1.47 crore to Delight Marketing, in which Sarla Gupta was a director as a front benami holder on behalf of Lalu Prasad.
Between 2010 and 2014, this land was further transferred, the CBI alleged. In 2001, it was decided to handover the management of catering services of Indian Railways, including of its hotels, to the IRCTC. Two such hotels — BNR Hotels in Ranchi and Puri — were also identified and an MoU was signed between the Railways and the IRCTC on March 19, 2004. According to an FIR flied by the CBI, Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then railway minister, entered into criminal conspiracy with the owner of Sujata hotels, Sarla Gupta, the wife of his close associate Prem Chand Gupta, an RJD MP in the Rajya Sabha, and IRCTC officials for “undue pecuniary advantage to himself and others”.
The probe agency also alleged that BNR hotels were transferred to Sujata Hotels through a rigged and manipulated tender process managed by P K Goel, the then MD of IRCTC. The CBI enquiry shows that the Railways sought bids for developing, operating and maintaining Rail Ratna Hotels on September 16, 2006. The probe agency has alleged that Lalu Prasad Yadav, as the railway minister, was aware about the whole process and was keeping a track of the tender proceedings. It surfaced that while over 15 bid documents were received for both the hotels, IRCTC has no records of bidders other than the Sujata Hotels.
It was also alleged that with an intention to render undue pecuniary gains to Sujata Hotels, the bid of another hotel was deliberately and unreasonably given low marks under technical evaluation. “As a result, Sujata Hotels remained the only bidder in financial evaluation and was qualified,” the CBI has alleged, adding after the tender was awarded to Sujata Hotels, the ownership of Delight marketing also changed hands from Sarla Gupta to Rabri Devi and Tejashwi Yadav between 2010 and 2014. By this time Lalu Prasad Yadav had demitted the office of railway minister.