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New Delhi: The Supreme Court ruling in favour of the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya sparked a gold rush for land near the temple’s location and several government officials – including an MLA – also joined in with the hopes of cashing in, according to an Indian Express report.
According to an investigation by the newspaper, several government officials – including local MLAs, close relatives of bureaucrats who have served or are serving in Ayodhya, and local revenue officials whose job is to authenticate land transactions – have bought land within a five-kilometre radius of the temple site – either in the months before the Supreme Court’s verdict in November 2019 or later.
The buyers who bought land in their own name include an MLA, mayor and a member of the state OBC Commission, the report said. Relatives of the divisional commissioner, sub-divisional magistrate, the deputy inspector general of police, the police circle officer, the state information commissioner also bought land, the newspaper has found.
The newspaper, in a separate report, said that one set of transactions – in the early 1990s – may have been in violation of norms. The Maharshi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT), which was founded by Mahesh Yogi, is being probed for alleged irregularities in the purchase of land from villagers who belong to a Dalit community.
At least four buyers are closely related to officials probing the MRVT for buying the land in the early 1990s, raising questions of “propriety and conflict of interest”, the Indian Express said.
The MRVT had bought nearly 21 bighas (about 13 acres) of land from Dalits. These lands were bought in the Barhata Manjha village, less than 5 km away from the Ram temple site.
While the Uttar Pradesh Revenue Code Rules bar acquisition of agricultural land (less than 3.5 bighas) belonging to Dalit persons by a non-Dalit unless cleared by the district magistrate, the MRVT bought land parcels from about a dozen villagers in 1992 by using Ronghai, an employee of the MRVT who is also from a Dalit community, as a “conduit” in the transaction, the daily reported.
Sale deeds were registered in the name of Ronghai, who in June 1996 signed an unregistered donation deed (daan-patra), and “donating” all the land to the MRVT, the newspaper added, citing records.
Mahadev, one of the people whose land was bought by Ronghai and “donated” to the MRVT, later complained to the Board of Revenue that his land had been “illegally transferred”. He was paid Rs 1.02 lakh for his 3 bighas, as per the records cited by the newspaper.
In fact, the entire land was bought by the MVRT for approximately Rs 6.38 lakh. It is currently worth Rs 3.90 crore to Rs 8.50 crore, according to IE.
Ronghai and his family continue to live far away from Ayodhya in Sahavpur village, about 25 km from Prayagraj. His wife Ghabrain told the daily that she was never told of such a deal and that Ronghai has not visited Ayodhya for several years.
Land bought by government officials raises questions of “propriety”
The daily further reported that though the plots purchased by relatives of government officials don’t fall in the 21 bighas under dispute, the fact that the seller in all these cases is the MRVT raises questions of propriety.
The newspaper spoke to officials and buyers who bought land in Ayodhya.
The father-in-law and brother-in-law of M.P. Agrawal, the divisional commissioner of Ayodhya since November 2019, bought 2,530 square metres and 1,260 square metres for Rs 31 lakh and Rs 15.50 lakh, respectively, in Barhata Manjha. The lands were bought from the MRVT. As per records, the commissioner’s wife is a partner in her father’s firm. The father-in-law says Agarwal had no role in the deal.
A relative of Purushottam Das Gupta, the chief revenue officer of Ayodhya between July 20, 2018 and September 10, 2021, bought 1,130 square metres in Barhata Manjha on October 12, 2021 for Rs 21.88 lakh from the MRVT. Gupta is now the additional district magistrate (executive) in Gorakhpur.
Gupta said he had no role in the inquiry against MRVT. His relative told IE he bought the land because it was available at a cheaper rate and didn’t take Gupta’s help.
Indra Pratap Tiwari, the MLA of Gosaiganj in Ayodhya district, bought 2,593 square metres in Barhata Manjha on November 18, 2019, for Rs 30 lakh from the MRVT. On November 18, 2019, a trust linked to the MLA, the Maan Sharda Sewa Trust, bought 9,860 square metres in Barhata Manjha from the MRVT for Rs 73.95 lakh.
The sister-in-law of Deepak Kumar, the deputy inspector general of police between July 26, 2020 and March 30, 2021, bought 1,020 square metres in Barhata Manjha on September 1, 2021, for Rs 19.75 lakh from the MRVT. He is now the DIG of Aligarh.
Umadhar Dwivedi, a retired IAS officer of the UP cadre who now lives in Lucknow, bought 1,680 square metres in Barhata Manjha on October 23, 2021, for Rs 39.04 lakh from the MRVT. He told the newspaper that he is not aware of any case pending against the MRVT.
The daughter of Dinesh Ojha, a court official of Bhan Singh, who is an assistant record officer hearing the case against the MRVT, also bought land, the Indian Express reported. He bought 2,542 square metres in Tihura Manjha for Rs 5 lakh from Mahrajdeen on March 15, 2021. This village also falls under Bhan Singh’s purview, the newspaper said.