After senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka alleged that he was being victimised by the Haryana government for probing dubious land deals involving businessman Robert Vadra, a former bureaucrat too is crying foul. RP Balwan, a former Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer, says that he was persecuted by the state government for trying to protect the forests in Wazirabad near Gurgaon. It is in this area, incidentally, where land worth crores were transacted between Mr Vadra and realty giant DLF, something that Mr Khemka had initiated an inquiry into alleging irregularities.
At the heart of the fresh controversy is a 350-acre plot in Wazirabad. It was acquired by the Haryana government in 2004 for building an industrial township and low-cost housing. But in 2009, it was awarded to DLF to build a golf course along with luxury residences.
Local residents and green activists, including Mr Balwan, are up in arms as more than 70 per cent of this land is covered by the fragile Aravalli forest. Hence, if DLF's project goes through, it could see nearly 10,000 trees facing the axe or being translocated to another part of the state to make for the golf course.
Environmentalists have expressed concern over the project, saying that it would put the future of the Aravalli forest at grave risk - one of the few remaining green patches in the region.
But the state government, ironically, had initially justified the leisure project, saying it would "help in the preservation of our indigenous flora and fauna and act as heat sinks".
"This is the most absurd thing. Not just that golf courses are the worst thing for the environment, they consume water, the pesticides to prevent weeds leak into the ground water...this is completely challengeable in court...the Aravallis and these forests are home to endangered species of flora and fauna," said Ritwik Dutta, senior Supreme Court environment lawyer.
What is even more surprising is the fact that the Central Empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the issue has recommended that the DLF project be given the go-ahead. This is in direct contravention to the top court's judgement in 2004, wherein it observed that "the Aravalli Hill Range has to be protected at any cost."
Significantly, all arrangements vis-a-vis the project have been done in a manner that DLF is the sole benefactor of the deals. While the realty giant refused to comment on the issue, the Chief Secretary of the Haryana government said, "An inquiry by the Additional Chief Secretary is on looking at the land deals, can comment only once the inquiry is over".
But Mr Balwan, a former conservator of forests for Gurgaon, isn't convinced. Having retired early in the wake of massive corruption in his department - he alleges that he was targeted several times in a career that spanned nearly three decades - the bureaucrat says he has been forced to get back to fighting for the endangered forests.
"My only motive is to save the forest at Aravalli. These trees will not survive the greed of the builders...there was tremendous pressure on me to allow for the cutting down of forests. First they said that they don't follow the rules of the Supreme Court...Everyone said they don't recognise the orders. I then gave the Supreme Court judgement in writing, letting them know that they were violating the orders," said Mr Balwan.
He had, in fact, written several letters to his superiors while he was in service, warning the latter of the massive destruction of forests if DLF's golf course project was sanctioned. In one such letter, he wrote, "Sh CR Jotriwal, IFS and CCF, is my senior and they are highly powerful persons in this immorality. How long can one remain a silent spectator of destruction? We are aware that honesty and dedication is not going to get any kind of bureaucratic support."
Mr Jotriwal, who is the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) in Haryana, though dismissed the accusations. "I am not aware of any complaint...anyone can make any allegations...there is no basis for this...Let him file a PIL...what will happen?"
Meanwhile, several other activists are demanding for a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the land deal.
The latest incident comes in the wake of a series of allegations that have surrounded the Congress-led Haryana government over alleged unscrupulous land deals involving politicians, corporates and builders. Recently, senior bureaucrat Ashok Khemka had controversially cancelled a multi-crore land deal involving Mr Vadra and DLF but was shunted out of office just two days after joining the Land Holdings department. The government later gave a "clean chit" to Mr Vadra following a probe.