Congress on Monday alleged the National
Democratic Alliance's (NDA) vice-presidential candidate M Venkaiah Naidu
and his family members, especially his son and daughter, to have benefitted from the largesse of the Telangana government. Later in the day, Naidu rebutted the allegations and said it was clear evidence of hopelessness and political bankruptcy of the Congress party.
Congress Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh
said the Telangana government on June 20 issued an order, which he said has been kept secret, that exempted the Swarna Bharat Trust
of Naidu’s daughter from paying various charges amounting to more than Rs 2 crore to the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA). “Is it not a fact that such an exemption has no precedent and it has been done because his daughter is the managing trustee of the organisation?” Ramesh asked.
Telangana government is run by Telangana Rashtra Samiti
(TRS), which isn’t a constituent of the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP)-led NDA, but has announced its support to Naidu’s candidature.
In his defence, Naidu said the Telangana government had clarified on July 23, 2017, that Swarna Bharat Trust
“was not the first and the last to be given such exemption” and gave details of several other organizations given such exemption, including those granted such exemption by the Congress governments in the state. “The Telangana Government has also clarified that there was nothing in law that prevented the State Government from giving such exemption” and that the Trust was a non-profit organisation and the exemption was given with a view to encourage it in doing social service.
Ramesh also raised several other instances of “state largesse” to Naidu and his kith and kin. “Probity in public life, accountability to people and transparency are the essential requisites of our democracy,” Ramesh said. The Congress MP said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often used “the rhetoric of ‘zero tolerance for corruption and wrongdoing’. Those holding the highest public offices must fully disclose their ‘interests’ as also special treatment in shape of state largesse for themselves and their kith and kin,” he said.
Naidu said the allegations made by Ramesh were “entirely false and politically motivated”. He said Ramesh has raised issues that have been responded to in the past and it was “evident that these issues have been referred to a few days before the election to the post of Vice President of India clearly reflecting on the political motives and the mischievous intentions.” He said he was a product of a political party and culture that always placed the highest premium on probity in public life and has always lived by those standards.
Ramesh said that in July 2014, the Telangana government placed an order amounting to about Rs 271 crore for the purchase of vehicles for the state police from Harsha Toyota, owned by Naidu’s son, and Himanshu Motors, owned by the son of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is also popularly known as KCR.
“Is it not a fact that such an order was placed in contravention of all rules and without even floating a tender?” Ramesh asked.
Naidu said he has “scrupulously kept” himself “away from the business and other pursuits” of his children. He said Harsha Totoya as a dealer never directly dealt with the state government in the procurement of vehicles referred to and no supply order was placed on Harsha Toyota. “The parent company, that is Toyota, offered to supply vehicles as desired by the state government” at government prescribed rates and the supply order was placed on parent company, Toyota Kirloskar and payment was also made to them, Naidu said.
Ramesh said that on September 25, 2004, ‘Kushabhau Thakre Memorial Trust’, with Naidu as its Chairman, was allotted 20 acres of land in Shahpura, Bhopal, valued at a few hundred crore rupees, lease deed of which was registered on January 6, 2007. He said that this land was allotted by the BJP
government of Madhya Pradesh for a pittance of one time premium of Rs 25 lakh and a yearly rent of Re 1. He said even the ‘land use’ was changed from ‘residential and forestry’ to ‘commercial’ as an act of favouritism by the BJP
“Is it not a fact that all of this was done without inviting an application in public domain in a completely arbitrary and whimsical fashion? Is it not a fact that the Supreme Court quashed this allotment on April 6, 2011, in a public interest litigation and passed stringent strictures of ‘political favouritism’ and cancelled the allotment of land,” Ramesh asked.
Naidu said that in his capacity as the BJP national
president, he was the ex-officio chairman of this Trust and had no role in the allotment of land. “Isn’t it a fact that several trusts were similarly allotted land by various governments including the Congress governments,” Naidu asked.
The Congress MP alleged that Naidu, when he was the national
president of BJP, was accused of grabbing 4.95 acres of land in Andhra Pradesh reserved for the 'poor and the destitute'. "Is it not a fact that on August 17, 2002, Naidu was forced to return this 4.95 acres of land after public embarrassment and accusations of wrongdoing," Ramesh asked further.
Naidu responded saying the issue was raised by the local Congressmen as early as in 2002 and even moved the courts and the charges of land grabbing were dismissed.
The Congress and 17-other Opposition parties are supporting Gopalkrishna Gandhi
for the election to the post of the vice-president. The polling is on August 5.