Chandigarh family under CBI lens over land deal

An influential family in Chandigarh is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for misusing prime government land to run an elitist, private school in the city.

Chandigarh: An influential family in Chandigarh is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for misusing prime government land to run an elitist, private school in the city.

The CBI has accused the family of misrepresenting facts to transfer control of prime government land allotted to national development agency, Bharat Sevak Samaj (BSS), in Sector 24 here, to a private foundation dominated by their family members. The land houses the Nehru Sewa Bhavan building, from where the Strawberry Fields kindergarten runs.

The CBI, in its case registered here, has said that money meant for philanthropic purposes was used by the family to buy luxury cars and repay unsecured loans taken by family members for other purposes.

The CBI booked well-known income tax consultant Brij Khanna, his socialite-cum-educationist son Atul Khanna, promoters of the privately-held Durga Dass Foundation (DDF), and unnamed government officers here last week.

They have been accused by the CBI of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust by public servant under penal provisions and under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Brij Khanna is the son of freedom fighter and former chairman of the Punjab Legislative Council Durga Dass Khanna.

He and his son Atul Khanna, who is a full-time paid director of the DDF, promoters of the DDF and unnamed government officers have been accused of transferring control of the nearly 6,800 square yards prime land of the Nehru Sewa Bhawan from the BSS to the DDF.

The control of the premises from the BSS to the DDF was done May-June 1994. The premises, which was never allotted or converted as a school site in the zonal plan, is worth several millions of rupees in the market.

Brij Khanna was the life president of the BSS Punjab chapter and later also became chairman of the DFF in 1994.

The DDF runs the Strawberry Fields kindergarten school, a private institution, from its Sector 24 premises. The school is one of the most sought-after institutions in the city and admission is not easy to get. It has been functioning from this premises for nearly two decades.

The CBI has stated that the school "is a premium kindergarten school in the city with a high fee structure".

The premises was allotted to the Punjab chapter of the BSS by the government in 1967 to set up a field hostel and activity centre for BSS volunteers coming from Punjab. The allotment letter also stated that the premises could be used for "cultural and beneficent purposes".

The BSS was constituted by Parliament in 1952 as the country`s national development agency under the patronage of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The BSS, which is under the Planning Commission and gets funding from the Central and state governments, was set up with the purpose of "initiating a nationwide non-official and non-political organisation with the object of enabling individual citizens to contribute to the national development plan".

The probe agency`s investigations into the activities of the Nehru Sewa Bhawan pointed out that the social activities carried out by the BSS earlier had been cleverly shifted by the DDF promoters to other government buildings in the city. The bhawan premises are now being used exclusively for the upscale kindergarten school.

The CBI case into the matter stated: "It (enquiry) has revealed that funds of Durga Dass Foundation have been misused to buy luxury cars by Atul Khanna. Interest payments have been made by the Durga Dass Foundation to family members of Atul Khanna for unsecured loans."

The CBI last week raided the house of the Khanna family in Sector 9 here as also the two schools, the kindergarten in Sector 24 and Strawberry Fields World School in Sector 26, after the case was registered.

Atul Khanna was questioned by CBI officials earlier this year. The probe agency had checked the schools` records during a raid earlier also.

"Atul Khanna is a paid director of the Durga Dass Foundation who draws a hefty salary and takes a part of the DDF profit as incentive money, besides charging for travelling and other miscellaneous expenses," the CBI said.

The CBI said that records of the Sector 24 school showed that the DDF earned a profit of Rs.2 crore from 1995-2010.

The Khanna family has been close to successive Punjab governors, who are also administrators of the city. Atul Khanna was considered extremely close to the last incumbent SF Rodrigues and another previous governor Surendra Nath.


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