The Supreme Court on Monday accused the former Congress government in Haryana of “mala fide exercise of power” and scrapped a 2007 notification that the administration had passed on acquiring land in Gurugram, then Gurgaon, The Indian Express reported.

In August 2004, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government had notified that it would acquire 912 acres in the villages of Manesar, Naurangpur and Lakhnoula to build an industrial township. Farmers then sold the plots to private builders at throwaway prices. In August 2007, two days before the government was to announce the compensation, it issued a notification revoking its 2004 order to acquire the land, leaving the private builders to profit from the plots.

“The record indicates that various entities including certain ‘middlemen’ cornered unnatural gains and walked away with huge profits taking the entire process of acquisition for a ride,” the bench of justices AK Goel and UU Lalit observed. “The unnatural and unreasonable bargain was forced upon the landholders by creating façade of impending acquisition. The motive was to confer undue advantage on the builders/private entities.”

The court held that “criminal conspirators” had bought plots from “innocent land owners” at rates far below their market value, The Economic Times reported. “Thus, some politicians who were also important functionaries...officers and their agents caused a wrongful loss of Rs 1,500 crore to land owners...corresponding wrongful gain to themselves,” it said.

With these observations, the Supreme Court said the land – with no claim – will now be vested with the Haryana Urban Development Authority and the Haryana Industrial Development Corporation. The bench quashed all sale deeds, release orders and other contracts issued to the private builders, who the judges said cannot recover any money they paid the land owners.

The Supreme Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to carry out a “complete investigation in the transactions, including unearthing unnatural gains received by ‘middlemen’”, The Times of India reported. The CBI had filed a chargesheet in the case in February, in which it named former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and 33 others as accused.

Hooda features prominently in the Justice Dhingra report the Haryana government submitted to the Supreme Court in April 2017. He is accused of giving a few private companies undue advantages in procuring licences to develop four sectors in Gurugram. This includes Skylight Hospitality, which is owned by Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra.