On December 11, 2018, the result of the Rajasthan assembly elections was declared and the people elected the Congress party with a comfortable majority. The party decided to appoint former CM of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, to the post once again. Ashok Gehlot, in his tenure as Chief Minister from 2008 to 2013 had faced his own share of corruption and nepotism allegations. Now that he is back in power, it is important to look back at these allegations and concerns.
Many of the allegations against Ashok Gehlot’s earlier government involve Om Metals and its subsidiaries and Triton Hotels and the association of Ashok Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav Gehlot, with these companies in one capacity or another. Several accusations of irregularities and conflict of interest surfaced during this time period, against companies that Vaibhav Gehlot provided services to.
Vaibhav Gehlot started as a legal consultant with Om Metals in 2006, receiving a monthly salary of Rs. 10,000. Om Metals is primarily involved with the construction of hydro-power projects. A complaint filed in 2013 by one Shyam Singh Rathore alleged that the decision by the government of Rajasthan to invite a tender for the construction of the dam to be built on river Kalisindh by the government of Rajasthan was reversed when the Gehlot government came to power. The complainant alleged that the tender was cancelled to benefit the Om Metals group and the terms and conditions were changed, ensuring that Om Metals won the contract. Previously, the cost of construction of the dam was estimated at Rs. 267.74 Crore but the contract was awarded to Om Metals at rupees 457.21 Crore, with a whopping increase of about Rs. 190 Crore. However, the CBI court, in 2017, rejected the revision petition filed by the complainant for alleged financial irregularities in Kali Sindh river dam construction after the complaint was rejected by a lower court.
Two months after the Kalisindh Dam project was awarded to Om Metals, another Rs. 250 crore contract was conferred to the group- a two-lane 200 km long stretch of the Rajasthan Highway between Jaipur and Bhilwarah. It was also alleged by the BJP that SPML Infra, a subsidiary of the Om Metals Group was awarded major irrigation projects and the cost of projects were inflated and the penalties waived off despite the company’s failure to meet deadlines.
In another case which surfaced in 2014, the Jaipur Development Authority was mentioned in a police inquiry report, to have worked under pressure from the then Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and illegally approved the construction plan of Pallacia, a high-end housing complex in the heart of Jaipur city. Pallacia, spread over 19,135 Sq. m area is owned by Om Metals, with which Vaibhav Gehlot had long been associated. Two subsidiaries of Om Metals, Om Metals Infraprojects Private Limited and its 100 per cent subsidiary Om Metals Consortium Private Limited constructed 152 flats on the plot which was purchased for about Rs. 158 Crore from the owner Maharaja Shree Ummed Mills Limited, in 2010. The police report alleged that due to close proximity of Ashok Gehlot with Om Metals’ directors, and Vaibhav Gehlot’s association with the group, the government officials colluded with them to approve the project “under pressure and influence.” The police report further alleged that a writ petition filed on the matter before the Rajasthan High Court was quashed with the explanation that it was not a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), but earlier the high court had stayed the “illegal construction”. The report also alleged that the then advocate general gave a flawed advice to the JDA, which was that the plot of land in concern was not covered under the ceiling law, and that the JDA approved the project violating all rules and regulations, saving Om Metals over Rs. 300 crore.
In a similar event that took place correspondingly, starring Vaibhav Gehlot again at the point of inception, in July 2009, where he signed in as a legal advisor for Triton Hotels with a monthly fee of Rs. 50,000. Only a month after this, the government of Rajasthan allowed the company to use 10,000 Sq. m of land, an ecologically sensitive zone originally booked for agriculture for commercial development, on the Delhi-Jaipur Highway. Triton Hotels registered a surge in business after that. Vaibhav Gehlot also had started a company called Sunlight Tours and Travels in 2008 and in 2010 he sold half the stakes of the company to Ratan Kant Sharma, a director at Triton Hotels.
Half of the stake in Triton Hotels is held by Ratankant Sharma, while the other 50% is believed to belong to a Mauritius based company called Sivnar Holdings Ltd. In 2013, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya had alleged that the company bought 2.5 lakh shares of Triton Hotels and Resorts Private Limited of value Rs. 100 each, at an “absurd” amount of Rs. 40,000 each. Somaiya alleged the possibility that Gehlot’s family may be involved in money laundering through this mysterious firm based in Mauritius.
It seems, during Gehlot’s earlier term, Vaibhav Gehlot had a ‘golden touch’ and every company he was involved with had particularly good luck when it came to navigating through the rigid bureaucracy and receiving government contracts beating out other contenders. Whether it was a mere coincidence or some sort of ‘divine intervention’ at play, we will get to witness in the next five years of the Gehlot reign. One can never count ‘divine intervention’ out, since ‘Om’ is after all as close to the divine as one can possibly get.