Ludhiana City Centre scam verdict: How court dissected vigilance case, point-by-point

Divya Goyal
Congress leaders flash victory sign after the court verdict in the Ludhiana City Centre case on November 27. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

There is no evidence that illegal gratification was given to Captain Amarinder Singh and there is “no iota of evidence to frame charges against the accused” in the alleged Rs 1,144-crore Ludhiana City Centre scam, as per a local court verdict here disposing the case.

As per the judgment by the court of sessions judge Gurbir Singh on November 27, there was also “no evidence that M/S Today Homes was given any special benefits” to execute the project.

The detailed 211-page judgment was made public Monday.

On November 27, the Ludhiana court discharged Amarinder, the Punjab chief minister, his son Raninder Singh, son-in-law Raminder Singh and 28 other accused in the alleged scam, in which it was claimed that a private realty firm, M/S Today Homes & Infrastructure Private Limited, was given undue benefits of at least Rs 1,144 crore to execute an infrastructure project - City Centre in Ludhiana - during Amarinder’s previous term as CM in 2005-06. It was alleged that Congress needed Rs 100 crore for 2007 Punjab polls and Amarinder and others were allegedly paid the amount as bribe by M/S Today Homes in return of awarding them the contract.

The Vigilance Bureau had registered FIR against Amarinder and others under Prevention of Corruption Act in March 2007 when SAD-BJP combine came to power. In August 2017, after Congress returned to power, the vigilance, in a U-turn, filed cancellation report in the court, saying there was no scam at all.

Observing that there is no evidence of any bribe amount paid to any accused, the judgment read: “It cannot be said that on May 10 and May 11, 2005 any amount of bribe was paid to Kamal Verma, Gurdial Kaur Khangoora, Paramjit Singh Sibia (former Chairman of Ludhiana Improvement Trust), Manmohan Singh SE and Chaudhary Jagjit Singh (now deceased and former local bodies minister). It is also not established that any attempt was made to give bribe amount to RD Awasthi. There is no evidence that in the year 2005 heavy amount of illegal gratification was given to Captain Amarinder Singh”.

Vigilance in its initial probe had claimed that a pen drive was also recovered from another accused Chetan Gupta of Delhi, which allegedly contained ‘hawala’ transaction details of at least Rs 21 crore credited by M/S Today Homes in the accounts of Amarinder and his son Raninder.

On this, the judgment says: “The recovery of pen drive from Chetan Gupta and its authenticity are not established. The entries in the pen drive are equivalent to entries in the book of account. In the absence of corroborating and independent evidence, the entries in the pen drive are not admissible and liability of any person cannot be fixed. On the basis of entries in pen drive, assessing officer, Income Tax added the income of Amarinder Singh and Raninder Singh. The orders of assessing authority...were set aside by higher authorities of Income Tax. It is not established that Amrinder Singh and Raninder Singh were having any deposit with the companies of Chetan Gupta. The properties in the name of Chetan Gupta and his family members are their properties. Said properties are not Benami properties. Said properties are not in any way connected with Amrinder Singh and his family members. It is not established that those properties were purchased with the black money of Amrinder Singh and his family members. There is no evidence that any amount of illegal gratification was paid to any accused”.

Further noting that there is no evidence to frame charges against any accused, the judgment says, “...in the case in hand, there is no iota of evidence against the accused to frame charges against them. Since there is not sufficient ground for presuming that accused have committed the offence so accused are entitled to be discharged”.

Vigilance had also alleged that Amarinder removed then LIT chairman Ashok Garcha because he had “refused to be a part of the conspiracy” and so the CM wanted to fit in his close aide (Sibia, now deceased) as LIT chairman. “It is not established that there was any malafide on the part of the government in removal of Ashok Garcha as LIT chairman and appointment of Paramjit Sibia in his place for the purpose of Ludhiana City Centre project. It cannot be said that allegation of demand of Rs100 crore was true. Since the City Centre project was already delayed so chairman Sibia acted as per schedule in the RFP (Request for Proposal). He did not act in haste. He was intimating each and every step taken by the LIT for the execution of the project, to the government,” the judgment read.

“There is no evidence that Sibia acted in conspiracy with minister, local government or with any other high up. There is no evidence that M/s Today Homes was given special benefits by relaxing the criteria. The allegation that RFP was changed without any authority and terms and conditions were relaxed to ensure that project was allotted to M/s Today Homes is not established. There is no evidence that bids were tempered in order to ensure allotment of work of City Centre, Ludhiana to M/s Today Homes,” it further read, observing that there is no evidence of any special treatment or favor being given to the Today Homes.

The vigilance had also alleged that project design was changed to benefit the company. “The assessment of loss to the LIT in the initial investigation was wrong. There is no evidence that excess area was given to M/s Today Homes. The excess area shown in the drawing was kept for green belt and roads. Same could not be used for any other purpose. It cannot be said that with the change of design, a loss was caused to the LIT or to the government and change of design was to help M/s Today Homes to earn more profits,” the judgment read.

On vigilance’s claim to have recovered Rs 40 lakh bribe amount and a gold chain from then LIT executive officer Dayal Chand Garg, the court order says: “It is not established that gifts were given to Garg, Manmohan Singh (SE) and other accused on Diwali 2005. There is nothing on the file that any amount of illegal gratification was paid to Garg and Manmohan Singh. The amount of Rs 40 lakh and gold chain shown to have been recovered in this case are not in any way connected with Garg”.

Regarding the CD of a “sting operation” initially submitted by vigilance as evidence, court says, “There is nothing on the file that the CD is factually correct and there is original recording in it. The CD recovered in this case cannot be considered as piece of evidence. It is not established that any document was forged or tampered with”.

Ordering that all the accused are discharged in the case, the orders conclude, “Thus supplementary challan (cancellation report) under Section 173(8) CrPC is hereby accepted and all the accused are hereby discharged in the challan under Section 173(2) CrPC”.