The Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on vacation in Himachal Pradesh along with his sister Priyanka Vadra. Reports suggest that Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra are staying at Wildflower Hall, an Oberoi’s group’s luxury resort, Shimla. Apart from Holidaying, according to some media reports, Rahul Gandhi is visiting the hill state to see his sister’s under-construction house at Chharabra, about 14 km from Shimla.
According to reports, Rahul Gandhi flew a drone to capture 360-degree images of his sister’s under construction house that too without permission. As it is now mandatory to take information from authorities before flying a drone on public and residential places. Now, it is a punishable offense under the sections of 287, 336, 337, and 338.
Priyanka Vadra’s house is under construction since 2008. According to reports, the house was purchased from US-based Satish Kumar Sood and Satinder Sood in 2007 for Rs 47 lakh. There used to be a two-storey five-room cottage which was demolished as Priyanka Vadra wanted to customize the house. The three-and-a-half bigha plot is located at a height of more than 8,000 feet, and 500 meter away from the summer resort of the President of India- The Retreat. The clearance of President’s secretariat was necessary for the commencement of the project. The clearance to the project was granted.
The land has been mired in controversies ever since Priyanka Vadra bought it. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had issued a notice to Priyanka in connection with a land deal in Shimla’s high-security zone. The court notice was issued on a petition filed by RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya. He asked for the details of the property and permissions granted by the then state government under section 118 of HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act. The then state had relaxed norms under Sec 118 of Land Reforms and Tenancy Act which paved the way for non-Himachali – Priyanka Gandhi- to buy land in the state. Under the Act, only permanent residents of Himachal Pradesh can buy land in the state.
In 2010, most parts of the partially constructed house were demolished, as Priyanka disliked the construction quality and house design. After a brief time, construction commenced again with a new design. As reconstruction began, the need for an approach road was felt. In 2011, 9.22 hectares and in 2013, 12 biswas of land were purchased from different owners, for the purpose of the approach road to the house, and to proceed with the construction work as per the new design.
In 2014, RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya filed an application under RTI asking for information on Priyanka Gandhi’s under-construction house. But the Deputy Commissioner’s office rejected the application and cited security reasons as Priyanka was an SPG-protectee, as an excuse to not to disclose the information. Bhattacharya then approached the State Information Commission which directed the state government to provide the information demanded within 10 days.
Following the State Information Commission’s order, Priyanka Vadra knocked the Himachal Pradesh High Court and had filed a writ petition against the order. The High Court had stayed the order to disclose information against the RTI application. In April 2016 the High Court issued a notice to Priyanka Vadra in the case.
Bhattacharya said, “She purchased land in Himachal at three different points in time. I just want to know how this is possible under the provisions of Section 118 of the H.P. Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972 that grant the permission for purchase only once.” He also added, “Second, how has the permission for land use whether horticulture or building a house been extended to her over all these years, whereas the Act says that it cannot be extended beyond two years. Third, I want to know how much land has been purchased by her. The Act provides for not more than 500 meters for a house and not more than 4 acres for agriculture.”
Opposition parties also targeted Priyanka Gandhi on the issue of purchase of lands in High-Security Zone of Shimla. Despite so much opposition from the rival political parties, RTI activists, and media pressure, Priyanka Vadra remained adamant with her plan, and her dream cottage is almost completed. In 2016, a BJP MLA Suresh Bharadwaj had said that “Taking advantage of her family status, Priyanka managed to get permission to construct a house in the high-security zone”.