Note: The story contains an appendix comprising the response of Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd, sent to The Wire after the original story was published.
This investigative report is a joint collaboration between The Wire and Guwahati-based news portal, The Crosscurrent.
New Delhi/Guwahati: Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is pushing for the eviction of peasant families across the state on the grounds that no one has the right to illegally take over government land. However, an investigation by The Wire and The Crosscurrent has established that a real estate company co-founded by Sarma’s wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma – of which their son Nandil Biswa Sarma as of FY’20 owned a significant number of shares – is itself occupying around 18 acres of government land intended for landless individuals and institutions, according to official records. This land was acquired in violation of the official rules governing its possession, sale and use.
One third of this land is prime real estate abutting Guwahati airport and Tech City, in Bongora, Kamrup district.
The company in question, RBS Realtors Private Limited, acquired most of the 18 acres in two stages, first in 2006-2007 and then in 2009. During that period, Sarma’s wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, was a director of the company, and Sarma himself was an influential minister in the erstwhile Tarun Gogoi government. The company’s other founder-director was Ranjit Bhattacharya, an associate of Sarma’s.
Details of the Sarma company’s ownership of the land in question are available at ‘Dharitri’, the Assam government portal which provides a digital record of land ownership in the state. The land records provide a striking contrast to the manner in which the illegal possession of land in Darrang district was handled by the state administration: a brutal police assault during an official eviction drive at Sipajhar in September led to the death of two persons, one of them a minor. Sarma subsequently defended the eviction drive. The families evicted were peasants who said they had settled in the area because their earlier plots and dwellings were lost to riverbank erosion, a common phenomenon in riverine Assam.
The irony is that as a state prone to the loss of land due to sand erosion, Assam’s land laws were actually designed to give the government access to adequate acreage for the resettlement of those rendered landless by the river, or those who settle on government land due to loss of their land to erosion. In the past, such families have been granted plots by the state government from land that came into its possession under the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1956.
Despite 10-year lock-in, RBS Realtors bought land within months of original allotment
By design, the ‘ceiling surplus land’ in the government’s possession is meant to provide land to the landless and needy in Assam, aside from also allotting a certain amount to individuals who continue to occupy plots under specific conditions as stipulated in the Act. In the last decade or so, while several states have amended their land ceiling laws to allow industry and non-farmers to buy large pieces of agricultural land and put them to non-agricultural use, Assam is not among them. Furthermore, individuals granted ceiling surplus land by the Assam government are prohibited from selling that land for a 10-year period.
It is this backdrop which makes the ownership of a large swathe of ceiling surplus land by a company directly linked to chief minister Sarma especially problematic.
In 2009, a total of 11 bigha, three katha and four lessa (i.e. 3,01,674 square feet or 6.92 acres) of ceiling surplus land in Bongora intended for – and allotted to – supposedly needy individuals by the government of Assam was bought by Sarma’s wife’s real estate development company. The sale and registration of these plots took place less than three months after their allotment to the original beneficiaries, thus violating the mandatory 10-year lock-in period as stated in the conditions under which the plots were granted by the government to those individuals.
As the government land portal notes in Assamese, each of these allotments came with a lock-in stipulation: “Ullekh thake je ei mati 10 bosorole bikri koribo nuwaribo (It is mentioned (in the land deed) that this land can’t be sold for ten years).”
The purpose behind this stipulation is to ensure government land allotted to the needy does not end up getting used for other purposes.
By the time Sarma’s wife resigned from RBS Realtors’ directorship on June 9, 2009, however, some 80% of that total ceiling surplus land had already been acquired by the company. The government’s records show that they were acquired between January 24 and 28, 2009 – when she was still a director.
Bhattacharya, the company’s second founder director, was appointed the BJP’s Assam Kisan Morcha vice-president in October 2021 and has been described as ‘HBS’s unofficial personal assistant’ by a person close to the chief minister’s family, speaking to The Wire on the condition of anonymity. HBS is the acronym used for Himanta Biswa Sarma. The same individual claimed that ‘RBS’ in the company’s name was the abbreviated form of Riniki Bhuyan Sarma. According to RSF’s ‘Who Owns the Media’ survey’, Bhattacharya also owns 13.2% of the shares in a media company associated with the Sarmas and might even be related to them: “As per the MGT-7 filings of Pride East Entertainments Private Limited, Ranjit Bhattacharyya is listed among the Hindu undivided family along with Mrinalini Devi (Sarma’s mother) and Kailash Nath Sarma (Sarma’s father) – which infers that he is related to the Sarma family. No further information was found on Ranjit Bhattacharyya.”
Interestingly, the ceiling surplus land brought by RBS Realtors Private Limited is situated adjacent to the government of Assam’s ambitious Tech City project in Bongora village, a stone’s throw from Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati. Tech City, under construction near the airport, has been envisaged by the state government-owned Assam Electronics Development Corporation Limited as “a one of a kind Electronics and IT hub for the entire Northeast India and ASEAN” and is linked to the government of India’s Act East policy.
When reporters from The Wire and The Crosscurrent visited Bongora last month, they found construction going on in a portion of land situated between Tech City and the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Guwahati.
On being shown the daag numbers of the ceiling surplus plots that the company had bought as mentioned in the government’s portal, a local land official said that the area under construction “is the one”. His claim could not be independently verified.
Though the accumulation of ceiling surplus land by a company of which Sarma’s wife is a founder director was a violation of the government’s 10-year lock-in rule for land allotment, the land department registered the plots under the name of the company and its director, Ranjit Bhattacharyya.
Earlier acquisition of land in North Guwahati
The government of Assam’s land portal also documents how the same company, RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd, repurchased two plots of government land originally allotted to welfare institutions in North Guwahati in 2006-07. According to the rules, government land allotted to institutions/farms etc. cannot be sold to a private individual or a private company, and to do so would be illegal.
Additionally, if the original allottee of the land doesn’t use it for the applied-for purpose, that land would go back to the government’s kitty within three years.
Despite these rules, however, the total area of public land in North Guwahati which passed into the hands of RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd – as per government land records – covers a span of 17 bigha, two katha and five lessa (i.e. 4,62,303 square feet or 10.6 acres).
Sarma family a constant in RBS Realtors’ ownership
According to company filings with the Union ministry of corporate affairs, accessed by The Wire and The Crosscurrent, RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd was incorporated on June 23, 2006 by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and Ranjit Bhattacharyya, both owning 50,000 equity shares of Re 1 each. This represented 65.78% of the company’s equity shares, according to its filings. Sarma and Bhattacharyya were also the company’s first directors.
RBS’s annual filings for FY’07 also show that during its first financial year, it issued equity shares to six different companies that each picked up a stake. They were: Dingo Commodeal Private Limited; Elegance Trade & Holdings Private Limited; Oleander Manufacturers and Credit Private Limited; Echolac Vinimay Private Limited; Prakhar Vyapay Private Limited; and Mayank Tieup Private Limited.
Four more companies picked up a stake in 2008 – Haralalka Commercial Private Limited; Yulan Marketing Private Limited; Subrekha Vyapaar Private Limited; and Chhattisgarh Birbi Patta Private Limited.
In 2009, seven more companies invested in it – Achi Finance and Management Consultancy Private Limited; NIlhat Promoters & Fiscal Private Limited; Radiant Merchandise Private Limited; S.K. Stock Dealers Private Limited; Shubh Laxmi Coal & Exim Private Limited; Slow and Sound Electronics Private Limited; and Tristar Agencies Private Limited.
The company’s balance sheet shows that in all, 17 companies had picked up a stake in RBS Realtors till FY’09. The shares these companies owned were of Rs 100 face value but it is not clear what voting rights they had.
Riniki Bhuyan Sarma resigned from the directorship of RBS Realtors on June 9, 2009. Her replacement as director, made on the same date, was Ashok Kumar Dhanuka, a businessman from Guwahati’s Fancy Bazar area who is considered close to chief minister Sarma. Though Dhanuka became a director, he owns no shares as per filings with the Union corporate affairs ministry.
Between 2009 and 2010, all shareholders barring one transferred their shares to a new set of people. However, Bhattacharyya remained a shareholder and director. The new shareholders were Sanjib Sarma, Dipannita Sarma, Guna Tamuly Phukan, Ajit Sarma, Bhaskar Sarma, Madan Chandra Sarma, Jina Devi, Bulu Devi and Dipankar Sarma.
While Guna Tamuly Phukan is the maternal uncle of Sarma’s wife, Jina Devi is the wife of the new shareholder Bhaskar Sharma, director of yet another company run by the Sarma household, Pride East Pvt Ltd, which runs the Assamese news channel NewsLive. The RSF’s ‘Who Owns The Media Survey’ had stated, “As per the MGT-7 filings of Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd, Bhaskar Sarma is listed among the Hindu undivided family along with Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and Atanu Bhuyan as promoters – hence it can be inferred that he is part of the Sarma family.”
Bhaskar Sarma’s brother Sanjib Sarma is also mentioned as yet another new shareholder of RBS Realtors.
Since the father’s/husband’s name section had been filled up by Jina Devi, Bulu Devi and Dipankar Sarma as Madan Chandra Sarma, these shareholders are clearly family members of another new shareholder Madan Chandra Sarma, father-in-law of Pride East Pvt Ltd director Bhaskar Sarma.
From RBS to Vashistha, a change of name
Soon after the new shareholders came in, RBS Realtors applied for a name change and re-incorporated itself as Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd. However, the common CIN number between the two companies, as shown in Union corporate affairs ministry documents, prove that it is the same company.
In 2017, company records show, 23.61% of the Rs 100 face value shares of Vasistha Realtors were transferred to Meena Bhuyan, mother of Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and mother-in-law of chief minister Sarma.
On September 16, 2019 – barely 18 days after Sarma’s son Nandil Biswa Sarma became an adult – Meena Bhuyan transferred her shares to him. Hence, as of FY’20, the chief minister’s son owns 23.61% the company’s Rs 100 shares, which is equal to 15.9% of the total equity shares issued by the company. Effectively then, a major owner of the shares of Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd – and presumed beneficiary of the dubiously acquired ceiling surplus government land – is the chief minister’s son, Nandil Biswa Sarma.
In total, the area of government land meant for restricted use that is now owned by chief minister Sarma’s son’s company is 29 bigha, nine lessa (i.e 7,84,296 square feet or 18 acres), of which prime land near Tech City is 11 bigha, two katha and four lessa, i.e a whopping 3,00,318 square feet or 6.89 acres.
So how did RBS Realtors manage to acquire the two sets of government land in prime locations when it was not entitled to such an allotment?
In North Guwahati, officials recommended welfare allotment, then RBS bought land
RBS Realtors purchased two plots in Sila Sendurgopha mouza of North Guwahati on December 27, 2006 and August 20, 2007 – barely a year after the company with Sarma’s wife as one of the founder directors was incorporated.
As per the Assam government’s land portal, seven bigha, two katha and five lessa (192,310 sq ft or 4.41 acres) of Kheraji Myadi Jolatok (freehold land with water bodies) in Namali Jalah village (patta no.96, daag no.465) was allotted by the land revenue department to the president of the Udayon Fishery Development Farm, Ramen Chandra Mahanta, on August 10, 2006. According to official records, the land was granted to the fishery farm on the basis of an April 24, 2006 letter of recommendation from the state government’s revenue department. The letter was endorsed by an order of the additional director of the Kamrup Rural district revenue department (order dated August 11, 2006). Mahanta paid Rs 7,87,217 to the state for the allotment of the land.
Though land given by the government to public institutions and welfare organisations/farms, etc. cannot be sold to or bought by a private individual or a private company as per the land rules in Assam, Udayon Fishery Development Farm sold its plot to RBS Realtors, and that too barely four months after acquiring it – on December 27, 2006.
RBS Realtor’s balance sheet for the financial year in which this transaction was made (FY’07) accounts for land worth Rs 38.04 lakh under the heading ‘fixed assets.’ It is not clear whether this reflects the price the company paid for the plot or the book value of the same.
About seven months later – on July 20, 2007 – RBS Realtors bought another plot of institutional land in the same village of North Guwahati. The land, as shown in government records, is ten bigha (270,000 sq ft or 6.19 acres). It is a mix of agricultural land with water bodies (patta no. 97, daag no.466). Going by the land patta and daag numbers of both the plots, the two plots in the village seem to be contiguous.
As per the government’s land portal, this second plot was originally allotted for institutional/welfare use by following the same modus operandi. An order issued by the same additional director of the district revenue office (dated August 30, 2006) and endorsed by a letter from the state government’s revenue department (dated September 27, 2006) led to the land being allotted to one ‘Welfare Activities School’ on August 23, 2006. Though no name of any school official is mentioned on the government’s portal, it records that Rs 25 lakh was paid by the school for the allotment of the government plot.
To summarise, the records show that both plots of lands in North Guwahati were originally allotted by the state government for institutional/welfare purposes in August 2006. And that both plots were in turn bought by RBS Realtors between December 2006 and July 2007 – when Sarma’s wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma was a founder director. The official records state that the plots were registered in the name of Ranjit Bhattacharyya, the other founder director of the real estate company RBS Realtors.
For FY’08, the company’s balance sheet accounts for land worth Rs 58.07 lakh under its ‘fixed assets’ – although it is unclear if the increased value from the previous financial year (Rs 38.4 lakh) is due to appreciation or acquisition of new land. After FY ‘10, the company drops any mention of ‘land’ under ‘fixed assets’. The reason for this is not clear and a questionnaire to its officials remained unanswered at the time of publication. Similarly, its FY ’20 balance sheet shows ‘office space’ under the company’s tangible assets worth Rs 4.17 crore but it is not known if this forma part of the commercial development of land.
Sarma was an ex-officio member of land advisory committee
While RBS Realtor’s acquisition of the two plots was in violation of government rules, the fact that Sarma might have played a role in the transfer of land to the original allottees adds another layer of impropriety to the transaction.
Recommendations for allotment of land to such institutions/farms usually originate with the Sub-Divisional Land Advisory Committee (SDLAC), of which the local MLA is an ex-officio member. In other words, Sarma, as the MLA of the Jalukbari constituency under which North Guwahati comes, was presumably party to the two original recommendations – which paved the way for the company run by his wife to acquire prime government land. An RTI request filed by The Crosscurrent at the office of the deputy commissioner (Kamrup) seeking the minutes of all the meetings which led to the decision to allot land to the Udayon Fishery Development Farm and Welfare Activity School was rejected, with the nodal officer stating that the records were not available.
In Bongora, flurry of land allotments followed by flurry of sales to RBS Realtors
According to documents in the public domain, RBS Realtors acquired seven plots of agricultural land from the government’s ceiling surplus land in Soiani Mouza of Bongora Gaon near Tech City. A look at the land patta and daag numbers indicate that the plots are situated next to each other.
As per land records seen by The Wire and The Crosscurrent, seven bigha, 12 lessa agricultural land (patta no. 367, daag nos 1549, 1124,1542,1544,1545,1546) was allotted to one Lalmoti Talukudar, widow of Manik Talukdar, as per the orders of the Kamrup district administration authorities (dated November 25, 2008). The allotment deed clearly stated that the ceiling surplus land granted to her could not be sold to anyone for 10 years. Yet, not even two months later, she sold five bigha, two katha and 12 lessa land to RBS Realtors. The land portal duly mentions that the land was registered in the name of RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd on January 28, 2009 – a violation of the condition under which the land was issued to Talukdar.
Another plot of ceiling land comprising 13 lessa (1,872 sq ft) was allotted to one Basanta Nath on November 25, 2008. The government’s portal clearly states that the land (patta no.372, daag no. 1547) could not be sold to anyone prior to the 10-year lock-in period. Yet, as in the earlier case, the land was illegally sold to RBS Realtors in less than three months. On January 28, 2009, the land was registered in the name of RBS Realtors director Ranjit Bhattacharyya. As in the earlier case, the registration of these two plots was carried out in the name of the company’s director Bhattacharyya a little over three months before Riniki Bhuyan Sarma quit as the director. Both the registration formalities were carried out on the same date.
The third plot of agricultural land from the same village (patta no 378,daag no: 783, 784,1124, 1126) comprises two bigha and eight lessa (55,152 sq ft). By an order of the state revenue department on the same date as the earlier plots – November 25, 2008 – the ceiling surplus land was allotted to one Satya Talukdar. However, on January 28, 2009, three katha and 13 lessa (5,760 sq ft) land of Talukdar was passed on to RBS Realtors director Ranjit Bhattacharyya. This transaction also took place while Sarma’s wife was a director.
The size of the fourth plot of agricultural land (patta no.368, daag no.1543) is three bigha, two katha and 12 lessa (85,320 sq ft). The state revenue department allotted the plot to one Rajubala Talukdar, widow of Bhuginath Talukdar, as per an order dated November 25, 2008. But the entire plot, meant only for landless and needy persons, was passed over to Ranjit Bhattacharyya of RBS Realtors on January 24, 2009.
Yet another plot issued to an individual by the district administration as per the state government’s directive on March 19, 2009 was one bigha, three katha and 15 lessa (33,048 sq ft) in the name of one Bixoy Nath. Of this, two katha and 15 lessa (5,752 sq ft) land from that plot was bought by RBS Realtors. On December 10, 2009, the land was registered in the name of the company’s director Ranjit Bhattacharyya. Though the land was allotted by the Assam government to the individual during the tenure of Sarma’s wife as the company director, the plot was acquired by the company six months after she quit as director.
The sixth plot – two katha and 15 lessa (4752 sq ft) – was allotted to one Beliram Talukdar on March 19, 2009. On December 10, 2009, the land was registered in the name of RBS Realtor director Bhattacharyya.
The seventh plot of land allotted to an individual in the same village was to one Nobin Nath. He was granted one katha and 11 lessa (2,880 sq ft) land on November 3, 2009, again on the condition that he would not sell it to anyone before the 10-year lock-in period ended. Yet, barely a month later, on December 14, 2009, he sold the plot to RBS Realtors. As in the above case, this transfer of land too was carried out after Sarma’s wife had quit the directorship of the company.
Unusual speed of transaction suggests helping hand from administration
For all of these plots, the Dharitri portal of the state government states that allotted land cannot not be sold to anyone or encroached by anyone for 10 years. Yet Riniki Bhuyan Sharma’s company acquired the land within months of the original allotment.
What is also noteworthy is that four of the district administration’s orders granting land to the particular individuals were made on the same date – November 25, 2008. Similarly, three of those plots got registered in the name of the company and its founding director Bhattacharyya on the same date – January 28, 2009 – while another one was four days prior to it – on January 24, 2009.
Similarly, while two of the remaining three plots of ceiling surplus land were registered in the name of RBS Realtors on the same day – December 12, 2009, the remaining one was registered in the name of the company two days later – on December 14, 2009.
Essentially, on the same date, the state government issued nine bigha, four katha and ten lessa (2,49,624 sq ft) land to four individuals from its ceiling surplus land. Barely a few weeks later, that land belonged to RBS Realtors while Sarma’s wife was officiating as its founder director.
All the plots were registered either in the name of the company or in the name of Ranjit Bhattacharyya.
Since Sarma’s assets affidavit as a Congress candidate for the 2006 assembly elections was filed on March 16, 2006 while RBS Realtors was incorporated on June 23 that year, there is no mention of her shareholdings in the company. However, that affidavit mentioned his wife owning an agricultural plot covering an area of five bigha, two katha and 11 lecha (daag no 71, 64) in Silamahekhaity under Sila mouza in North Guwahati.
By the time he filed his election affidavit for the 2011 assembly polls, there was no mention of his spouse owning any agricultural land but of shares (29 lakh) in unlisted companies. In his 2016 and 2021 affidavits too, no agricultural land is shown against his spouse name, though there is a mention of his wife owning some shares in non-listed companies. Sarma’s 2021 affidavit showed she owned such shares worth Rs 2 crore. ‘Dependent 3’ is listed as owning over Rs 7 crore worth of shares.
The Wire and The Crosscurrent sent separate questionnaires to Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and Ranjit Bhattacharya, to Vashishtha Realtors and the relevant government departments dealing with the land allotments on December 5, 2021. No responses have been received at the time of publication.
You can read the questionnaires below
1. To the district commissioner, Kamrup
The Nodal officer/Deputy Commissioner
The Wire (www.thewire.in) is a New Delhi-based digital news portal which publishes in English, Hindi, Urdu and Marathi.
Together with The Cross Current (www.thecrosscurrent.com), a Guwahati-based Assamese news portal, The Wire is doing a news report on land acquisition in Kamrup district based on public records.
In this regard, we have a set of questions to you as the nodal officer for the district.
1) According to provisions under the ‘Govt of Assam Land Policy – 1989’, land given by the state government to public institutions/welfare organisations or farms cannot be ever sold to a private individual or a company. Is this correct?
2) Is it correct that seven bigha two katha and five lessa institutional land in Namali Jhala village of North Guwahati was allotted by the Land Revenue Department to Udayon Fishery Development Farm. Was there any change in the ‘Govt of Assam Land Policy-1989’ between 1989 and 2007?
2 A) Was any part of this said 7 bighas or the whole of it transferred or acquired by any private company or individual after it was allotted it to Udayon Fishery Development Farm. If so, to whom and when?
2 B) Was any part of this land acquired by RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd, and if so, when and by what means?
3) In August 2006, was ten bigha land in Namali Jhala village of North Guwahati allotted under the same policy as aforesaid to one ‘Welfare Activities School’.
4) Was 7 bigha, 12 lessa agricultural land allotted to one ‘Lal Lalmoti Talukudar, widow of Manik Talukdar in Bongora village in Kamrup district as per the orders of the Kamrup district administration authorities (dated November 25, 2008), with the stipulation that the land granted to her could not be sold to anyone for 10 years?
4 A)Was this land sold to any private individual or company within 10 years of allotment? Is the said land registered in the name of RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd with effect from January 28, 2009?
5) In the same village, was about 13 lessa allotted to one Basanta Nath on Nov 25, 2008, with the stipulation that it could not be sold to anyone for 10 years from the time of allotment? Was this land sold to RBS Realtors and if so when?
6) In the same village, was about two bigha eight lessa allotted to one Satya Talukdar on Nov 25, 2008, with the stipulation that it could not be sold to anyone for 10 years from the time of allotment? Was this land sold to RBS Realtors and if so when?
7) In the same village, was about three bigha two katha and 15 lessa land allotted to one Rajubala Talukdar on Nov 25, 2008, with the stipulation that it could not be sold to anyone for 10 years from the time of allotment? Was this land sold to RBS Realtors and if so when?
8) In the same village, was about one bigha three katha and 15 lessa allotted to one Bixoy Nath on March 19,2009, with the stipulation that it could not be sold to anyone for 10 years from the time of allotment? Was this land sold to RBS Realtors and if so when?
9) In the same village, was about two katha and 15 lessa allotted to one Beliram Talukdar on March 19, 2009, with the stipulation that it could not be sold to anyone for 10 years from the time of allotment? Was this land sold to RBS Realtors and if so when?
10) In the same village, was about one katha and 11 lessa allotted to one Nobin Nath on March 19, 2009, with the stipulation that it could not be sold to anyone for 10 years from the time of allotment? Was this land sold to RBS Realtors and if so when?
2. To to Vashishtha Realtors
Directors of RBS Realtors Pvt Ltd/Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd,
The Wire (www.thewire.in) is a New Delhi-based digital news portal which publishes in English, Hindi, Urdu and Marathi.
Together with The Cross Current (www.thecrosscurrent.com), a Guwahati-based Assamese news portal, The Wire is doing a news report — based on public records — on the company RBS Realtors acquiring near about 18 acres of land in North Guwahati (institutional) and Bongora village (ceiling surplus) near Guwahati airport in Kamrup district between 2006-2007 and 2009 respectively.
In this regard, we have a set of questions to the company which subsequently changed name to Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd, as per documents submitted to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
1) State government land records show that RBS Realtors bought ceiling surplus land allotted to seven individuals in the Bongora village of Kamrup district in 2009. We understand this land was allotted to these individuals with the stipulation that those plots could not be sold to anyone for ten years.
Lalmoti Talukdar, Basanta Nath, Satya Talukdar and Rajubala Talukdar were allotted ceiling surplus land in Bongora village on November 25 2008. The four plots were registered in the name of RBS Realtors on January 28, 2009 in violation of the 10 year lock-in period.
Bixoy Nath and Beliram Talukdar were allotted ceiling surplus land in Bongora on March 19,2009. The land was registered on December 10, 2009 in the name of Ranjit Bhattacharyya as director of RBS Realtors.
Nobin Nath was allotted ceiling surplus land on November 3, 2009. It was bought by RBS Realtors on December 14, 2009.
Has there been any public notification or order that has altered this stipulation and allowed RBS Realtors to bypass the 10-year-ban on purchase of such land?
2) The Assam government’s land records show that two plots in North Guwahati allotted to institutions/farms were purchased by RBS Realtors between 2006-2007.
While one plot was acquired from Udayon Fishery Development Farm on December 27, 2006, another plot was bought by the company from Welfare Activities School on July 20, 2007.
As per the ‘Govt of Assam Land Policy-1989’, such land can never be sold by original allottees.The same policy notes that if it is not used for the purpose for which it was allotted, then it must be returned within three years.
Was there any public notification or order that allowed RBS Realtors to bypass the rule for such land? If so, when was such an order issued and by whom?
3) We understand that RBS Realtors changed its name to Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd. Is this correct?
4) On September 16, 2019 – just after Nandil Biswa Sarma turned 18 – Meena Bhuyan transferred her shares to him. Is this correct? If so, what is the role of Nandil Biswa Sarma in Vasistha Realtors? What is the value of his shareholding?
5) Your FY’20 balance sheet shows ‘office space’ under the company’s tangible assets worth Rs 4.17 crore. Does this form part of the commercial development of land, originally acquired by RBS Realtors in 2006-2007?
3. To Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and Ranajit Bhattacharyya
Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and Ranjit Bhattacharyya,
The Wire (www.thewire.in) is a New Delhi-based digital news portal which publishes in English, Hindi, Urdu and Marathi.
Together with The Cross Current (www.thecrosscurrent.com), a Guwahati-based Assamese news portal, The Wire is doing a news report — based on public records — on a company, RBS Realtors, acquiring near about 18 acres of land in North Guwahati (institutional) and Bongora village (ceiling surplus) near Guwahati airport in Kamrup district between 2006-2007 and 2009 respectively.
According to the Union Corporate Affairs ministry documents, both of you co-founded the company in 2006 and became its founder directors. Those plots of land were registered when both of you were/are it’s directors.
In this regard, we have a set of questions for both of you as founder directors of RBS Realtors which subsequently changed its name to Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd, as per documents submitted to the Ministry.
1) According to company filings made with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, and attached in this email, in the first year of RBS Realtor’s functioning (FY’07), both Ms Sarma and Mr Bhattacharya owned a 32.8% stake in the company. Can you confirm this is correct?
2) In 2006-2007, state government land records show that RBS Realtors purchased two plots in Sila Sendurgopha mouza of North Guwahati on December 27, 2006 and August 20, 2007. Is this correct?
2 A) Though land given by the government to public institutions and welfare organisations/farms, etc. cannot be sold to or bought by a private individual or a private company as per the land rules in Assam, Udayon Fishery Development Farm sold its plot to RBS Realtors, and that too barely four months after acquiring it – on December 27, 2006.
Was there any public notification or order altering the restrictions placed on Udayon Fishery from selling the land and thus allowing RBS to buy it?
2 B) Though land given by the government to public institutions and welfare organisations etc. cannot be sold to or bought by a private individual or a private company as per the land rules in Assam, Welfare Activities School sold its plot RBS Realtors, and that too barely eleven months after acquiring it — on Juky 20, 2007.
Was there any public notification or order altering the restrictions placed on Welfare Activities School from selling the land and thus allowing RBS to buy it?
3 Ms Sarma, can you confirm this land was transferred to RBS during your tenure as shareholder/director of RBS Realtors pvt ltd?
4. Mr Bhattacharyya can you confirm this land was transferred to RBS during your tenure as shareholder/director of RBS Realtors pvt ltd?
Update: December 22, 2012. On Sunday, December 20, 2021, The Wire received a legal notice by registered mail issued on behalf of Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd. In the notice, dated December 12, 2021, which is appended in full below, the company notes that it received questions sent by The Wire before publication and says that it “denies each and every allegation made” in the article published above.
In particular, Vasistha notes that all land acquired by the company was done without breaking any laws, because “prior to selling their respective plots of land to my client, the vendors had acquired the status of ‘land-holders’ as per the provisions of Section 8 of The Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886”.
“… in absence of any statutory bar, any Circular, Letter, Notification, etc., issued by any executive/officer without statutory support and backing, by way of an executive fiat, cannot create any such bar of 10 (ten) years lock-in period. As such, it is abundantly clear there was no violation and/or contravention of law, when my client had purchased the aforesaid plots of land from the respective vendors,” the notice says.
The PDF of the complete letter is appended below.
Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor of The Wire, responds:
Our story is entirely based on government documents and the observations the government itself made about these plots of land. We also put a series of specific questions to Vashishtha Realtors and its promoters and waited a few days for a reply, which never came. Now, the company has written to us saying the plots it purchased were unencumbered and that there was no bar on their sale. This is their claim, which we dispute.
Moreover, the second, crucial element of our story stands unchallenged: the pattern of these sales. Virtually all of these transactions involved the purchase of land by the company soon after the government transferred the plots to either welfare bodies or supposedly needy individuals. Is it a coincidence that a bunch of random people just happened to be given plots in a prime area by the government around the time that the company was interested in acquiring land? Why didn’t the company directly approach the government for land if it had a need and if indeed the law allowed it to take possession of such plots directly?