Saturday, July 13, 2024

HC reserves verdict on Delhi Chief Secy’s plea on removal of defamatory article

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday reserved the judgement on Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar’s plea seeking directions for online news portal to remove a report claiming that Kumar’s son had links with a family that benefited from increased compensation during land acquisition by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for the Dwarka Expressway project.

In addition to seeking directions for the removal of the article, Kumar has also sought to restrain the news portal and concerned reporter from publishing further “defamatory” content.

Appearing for Kumar, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh said that in order to activate people against his client, the article was “pre-planned”.

For the news portal, Advocate Sarin Naved argued that the intention behind the article, which only raised a few questions, was not to defame Kumar in any manner.

After hearing the matter for a brief time, Justice Sachin Datta reserved his verdict in Kumar’s plea.

The report by ‘The Wire’ titled ‘Links of son of Delhi Chief Secretary to Beneficiary’s Family in Land Over-Valuation Case Raise Questions,’ alleged connections between Kumar’s son and a family that allegedly gained from the increased compensation for land acquired by the NHAI.

Having sent a legal notice to ‘The Wire’ and the concerned reporter through Advocate Bani Dikshit on November 13, Kumar claimed that the report was defamatory, false, baseless, and misleading.

He asserted that he took cognisance of the issue independently and recommended the case to be referred to the CBI to prevent wrongful loss to the public exchequer.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had sent a complaint to the Vigilance Minister for investigation into the alleged benefits of Rs 315 crore provided by Kumar to his son in land acquisition for the Dwarka Expressway project, said an official.

“A complaint was made to Chief Minister Kejriwal regarding the alleged corruption involving Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar on October 24. It was alleged that the Chief Secretary benefited his son’s company by Rs 315 crore,” a source had said.

“There are allegations of irregularities in land acquisition on the Dwarka Expressway. The Chief Minister has sent the complaint to the Minister of Vigilance for a detailed inquiry in the matter,” said the official.

Earlier, the Delhi High Court nullified an award of over Rs 300 crore issued by District Magistrate (DM) Hemant Kumar, who was suspended from his position, in a matter of compensation for land acquisition in Bamnoli Village, southwest Delhi on the Dwarka Expressway.

Kumar, a 2013-batch Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer, had increased the compensation amount for 19-acres of land acquired by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from Rs 41.5 crore to Rs 353.8 crore during his tenure as the DM of southwest Delhi.

The High Court’s decision was based on the observation that the DM had made this award without giving the NHAI an opportunity to refute the additional documents submitted by the awardee, Subhash Chand Kathuria, a fact admitted by Kathuria’s counsel in court.

The court held that the award was issued in blatant violation of the principles of natural justice and contained patent illegalities.

The implementation of this award would have imposed an additional financial burden of Rs 312.3 crore on the government. Notably, the DM had passed the award in May and sought endorsement from the Divisional Commissioner (DC). However, Ashwani Kumar, the DC, promptly highlighted the misconduct, describing the enhancement of compensation as a “gross blunder” that could have adverse consequences on planned urbanisation and development.

Following this, the Chief Secretary, Naresh Kumar, endorsed the DC’s views and directed an inquiry into the matter within a week by the Directorate of Vigilance.

With the approval of Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor, V.K .Saxena, a CBI inquiry was recommended to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on September 20 along with departmental action against Kumar.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs referred the case to the CBI for investigation on October 20 and concurrently, Kumar was transferred to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on October 19. He was subsequently placed under suspension with immediate effect on October 20.

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