Last Wednesday, hours after The Indian Express reported that 4.12 hectares of forest land have been acquired in Chhattisgarh for a resort by Sarita Agrawal, the wife of State Minister Brijmohan Agrawal, Chief Minister Raman Singh sought an official report on the deal. Officials have now found that 13.9 hectares of government land was encroached upon for the project.
Investigations by Mahasamund district revenue officials have also found that notices red-flagging the “encroachment” were sent four months ago to Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd, the company which acquired the land and has Sarita Agrawal and Abhishek Agrawal, the son of Brijmohan Agrawal, as its directors.
Replying to the notice through its representatives, the company struck a defiant note and stated that they wanted to retain this parcel of government land, which they claimed was within their property’s boundaries. In exchange, records show, they offered to give the government another tract.
On July 25, The Indian Express had reported that 4.12 hectares of land, which was donated by a farmer Vishnu Sahu to the Water Resources Department in 1994, was subsequently transferred to the Forest department, with Rs 22.90 lakh spent on it in 2003 for afforestation. According to records, this land was then purchased by the Minister’s wife. Also Read | Chhattisgarh minister’s wife buys state forest land to build a resort, his dept says we can do nothing | Click here
Documents accessed by The Indian Express now show that the tehsildar of Mahasamund district had sent a showcause notice to Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd on March 15, notifying them of the encroachment on government land.
The letter says, “According to the note prepared by the patwari, 13.90 hectares of government land situated in Jalki village has been encroached, and has been cordoned off. This land is registered to various government departments. Therefore, please appear before the tehsildar’s court on March 20 and show cause as to why you should not be punished under the Chhattisgarh Bhu-Rajaswa (Land Revenue) Act 1959, and be evicted.”
On March 20, documents show, two managers of Aditya Srijan Private Limited, Ranjit Singh and Mahendra Kumar, appeared before the tehsildar’s court, with both stating on record that they had been sent by Sarita Agrawal.
In their statement, they also said that 15 patches of land, totalling 13.90 hectares “fell in between their land.” “Ukt zameen humaare zameen ke beech mein lagi hai. Ukt zameen pe kisi prakaar ka karvahi nahi kia hai aur na phasal boya hai. Ukt zameen se apni lagaati zameen ke tabadla karaana chahte hai (The land falls in between our land and no work has been done on this, and no crop has been sown either. We want to exchange this land with our own existing land),” they stated. Also Read | ‘Kuch dalal aaye the… later, I found that mantriji bought the land’ | Click here
Acknowledging the receipt of the statements, the tehsildar wrote to Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd again within a week, reiterating that 13.90 hectares “pe atikraman kar ghera kiya gaya hai. Jo vibhinn shasakiya mad mein darj hai (that land registered to various government departments has been encroached and cordoned off)”.
The letter acknowledges that “manager Ranjeet Singh and Mahendra Kumar” were present on March 20, but asks for “an appearance in person” or an advocate on July 30. “Otherwise, your answer will be considered against the facts of this case and further action will be taken,” the letter states.
The investigation into the acquisition stems from a whistleblower’s complaint to the Prime Minister’s Office on December 2, 2016, which was forwarded to Chief Secretary Vivek Dhand. That complaint mentioned the acquisition of 4.12 hectares of forest land and stated, “In Jalki village, influential individuals and their family/accomplices have illegally encroached ‘sarkaari charnoi ki bhoomi’ for the construction of a massive farmhouse. Sir, you know that the acquisition and development of community ‘charnoi’ (forest/grazing) land is against the strict instructions of the Supreme Court”. Also Read | Chhattisgarh Minister says didn’t know status, records say otherwise | Click here
According to government records, six of the 15 different tracts of land allegedly encroached, totalling over 10 hectares, have been documented as “chhote jhaad ke jungle” and “bade jhaad ke jungle”, or jungles comprising small and big shrubs.
According to government officials, various court judgments have noted that these are meant to be treated as forest land, and cannot be sold or transferred without the permission of the central government.
On June 29, in a judgment related to a separate case on whether “bade jhaad ke jungle” can be sold or leased without central government clearance, Chhattisgarh High Court Justice Sanjay K Agrawal stated that the Supreme Court “has held that the word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning”. Also Read | Will return land if anomalies in deal proved, says BJP minister | Click here
”This description covers all statutorily recognised forests whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2(i) of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The term ‘forest land’, occurring in section 2 will not only include “forest” as understood in the dictionary sense but also any area recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of ownership,” stated the judgment. Also Read | Chhattisgarh govt, Minister worked to upgrade village that has wife’s resort | Click here
In that case, the court noted that “Bade jhaad ka jungle cannot be allotted on lease by the State/ or its authorities without prior approval of the central government under section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980”.
‘Not encroached any govt land’
Abhishek Agrawal, son of Brijmohan Agrawal and director of Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd: “Our company has not authorised any manager or any staff to give any reply to any notices. As per my knowledge, our company Aditya Srijan has not encroached any government land. Our matter is pending at court so we will give (a) reply at court.”