Sunday, August 31, 2014

Arun Shourie defends Laxmi Vilas Palace hotel selloff in 2002

NEW DELHI: Former Union ministerArun Shourie on Sunday defended the sell-off of ITDC-owned Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in 2002 for which the then disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal has been booked by the CBI for cheating and under-valuation of the property. Expressing surprise at the CBI case that's based on an "oral complaint", Shourie wondered if decisions and allocations done years ago were struck down like this, what effect it will have on Prime Minister's efforts to energise bureaucracy.

"If after 12 years you are going to charge the secretary, joint secretary and other officers without even questioning them once, PM's expectations of an energised bureaucracy are not going to be met," he told ET.

Shourie, who was the then minister for disinvestment in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government, explained in detail how correct procedures were followed for the evaluation and sale of the hotel.

"Arun Jaitley is the common factor between the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (of 2002) and the present NDA government, where he handles the department of disinvestment. The Committee had cleared the disinvestment after scrutinising all the documents and procedures," said Shourie, who was widely tipped to be an important member of the Narendra Modi's cabinet.

He said that the file of the Share Holding Agreement of the property was cleared by Jaitley as law minister at three different levels.

"I am absolutely certain that every procedure was followed. There was a vigilant law minister, and his ministry cleared the file three times," explained Shourie. The first time, the file went to law ministry for whetting of the document.

It went again after the agreement was finalised and bids were invited, and then finally again when the bids were received, he said. Jaitley, in an interview to this newspaper published in today's edition, too, said there was no sign of wrongdoing in the Laxmi Vilas Palace deal.

"I have been, as a minister at that time, a witness to those transactions and I have no doubt in my mind that all the disinvesment transactions were completely above board," Jaitley told ET.

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