The village where Sarita Agrawal, the wife of BJP leader and Chhattisgarh minister Brijmohan Agrawal, bought 4.12 hectares of state forest land, and where she is building a resort with her son, was identified and singled out for special development work as part of the state government’s thrust to develop the region as an international tourist destination.
Brijmohan Agarwal was a member of the Cabinet that approved the setting up of a committee that decided on this, official records show.
On July 25, The Indian Express had first reported that Agrawal’s wife bought the land donated by farmer Vishnu Sahu to the Water Resources department in 1994 which was then transferred to the Forest department with the government’s Rs 22.90 lakh spent on it in 2003 for afforestation. A resort is now being built on the land, with additional land for the project acquired by companies in which the Minister’s son Abhishek Agrawal and wife Sarita Agrawal are partners.
The village in question, Jalki, is 13 km from Sirpur, identified by the Chhattisgarh government as a potential tourist hub of archaeological and historical importance.
In February 2015, the state Cabinet approved the formation of the Sirpur Special Area Development Authority (SADA) under Section 64 of the Urban and Rural Investment Act, 1973. When he announced the decision, Chief Minister Raman Singh said that the government intended to push for Sirpur to get “world heritage status” and to put it on the international tourism map. A total of 34 villages would be included in SADA, the Chief Minister said. Jalki is one of them. The chairperson of SADA is the District Collector of Mahasamund.
Minutes of a SADA meeting on August 9, 2016, obtained by The Indian Express, reveal that Jalki and an adjacent village, Chaporadih, were earmarked for special attention.
Section 4 of the minutes clearly states: “The development plan of the 34 identified villages was discussed. All government schemes must be worked on in these villages with all round development. Kintu sabhi gaon ko ek saath karya karnale ke bajaye gram Jalki evum Chaporadih ko sabse pehle develoment kiya jave. Iske sabhi vibhago ko jaise van, lok nirman vibhag, lok swasthya ko vishesh plan banane ke nirdesh diye gaye hain. (But instead of developing all villages at one, development should first be done in the villages of Jalki and Chaporadih. Directions have been given to every department such as forest, public works, and public health to come up with a plan.)
Brijmohan Agrawal was Minister for Agriculture, Water Resources, Fish Rearing and Animal Husbandry. Also read: Chhattisgarh minister’s wife buys state forest land to build a resort, his dept says we can do nothing. Click here.
The Indian Express asked Collector of Mahasamund Umesh Agrawal why Jalki and Chaporadih were chosen as the first among the 34 villages to be developed. He declined to comment saying: “This was during my previous posting and I do not want to say anything.”
What raises more questions of potential conflict of interest is that Agrawal, even as his family bought the land in 2009, was state tourism minister between 2003 and 2013.
With Jalki around 13 km from Sirpur, and the Barnawapara wildlife sanctuary and the Kodar dam nearby, the resort itself stands to benefit from development in these areas. The description of Sirpur on the Chhattisgarh tourism website reads, “Sirpur has a rich background of traditional cultural heritage and architecture. The archaeological remains are still a pride for this region. The Buddha Viharas in Sirpur are older than Nalanda…”
During Agrawal’s tenure as tourism minister, money was spent on projects to upgrade Sirpur and the Barnawapara sanctuary. These include: A garden outside the Laksham Temple in Sirpur between 2006-07 costing Rs 26 lakh; a tourist information centre costing Rs 29 lakh; interior roads in Sirpur were converted to concrete roads between 2008-09, costing Rs 68 lakh; a heritage trail, pagoda, and sitting benches were made between 2008-09, costing Rs 87 lakh and the Rs 1-crore first annual Sirpur National Cultural festival was launched in 2013. When contacted, Minister Agrawal declined to comment.