In the flurry of land deals in Ayodhya, one set of transactions raises critical questions of propriety and conflict of interest. At least four buyers are closely related to officials probing the seller for alleged irregularities in land transfer from Dalit residents.
At the heart of this network of transactions is Mahesh Yogi-founded Maharshi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT) that had, in the early 1990s, acquired large tracts of land in the village of Barhata Manjha, less than 5 km away from the Ram temple site, and some other surrounding villages in Ayodhya. Of this land, nearly 21 bighas (about 52,000 sq m) was bought from Dalits in apparent violation of norms.
With the Uttar Pradesh Revenue Code Rules (since 2016, and Zamindari Abolition Act prior to that), barring acquisition of agriculture land (if owned less than 3.5 bigha) belonging to Dalit persons by a non-Dalit – unless cleared by the District Magistrate — MRVT bought land parcels from about a dozen Dalit villagers in 1992, using Ronghai, a Dalit employee of MRVT, as a conduit.
Records show sale deeds were registered in the name of Ronghai. Subsequently, Ronghai signed an unregistered donation deed (daan-patra) in June 1996 and “donated” it all to MRVT – this was listed in khatauni (land records), as per records verified by The Indian Express, in the name of MRVT on September 3, 1996.
Records of each purchase investigated by The Indian Express show that, together, this entire land was bought by MRVT — via Ronghai — for approximately Rs 6.38 lakh. As per current circle rate in the area (applicable since August 2017), this is worth Rs 3.90 crore to Rs 8.50 crore.
One of the Dalit residents whose land was bought by Ronghai and “donated” to MRVT was Mahadev – he got Rs 1.02 lakh for his 3 bighas, as per records. In September 2019, when MRVT started selling parcels from land bought via Ronghai, Mahadev complained to Board of Revenue that his land had been “illegally transferred”.
On his complaint, a committee comprising Additional Commissioner Shiv Pujan and then Additional District Magistrate Gorelal Shukla was set up to probe the transfer.
Records show that on October 1, 2020, the then District Magistrate, Anuj Kumar Jha, approved this committee’s report recommending action against MRVT and certain government officials for “illegally transferring land (of a Scheduled Caste person) through an unregistered donation deed”.
This was approved by Ayodhya Divisional Commissioner MP Agrawal on March 18, 2021 and a case was finally filed on August 6 this year in the court of the Assistant Record Officer (ARO) Bhan Singh in Ayodhya for “correction” of the order of August 22, 1996, and to “return the land in question to the state government.”
Even as Agrawal, the appellate authority for applications filed for revision/review of revenue orders, forwarded the inquiry report to the Board of Revenue for action, his relatives bought land from MRVT.
In fact, while the case against the trust is pending, Agarwal’s father-in-law and brother-in-law had bought 2,530 sq m and 1,260 sq m land, respectively, on December 10, 2020 from MVRT in the Barhata Manjha village.
Close relatives of two other government officers – then Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) Purushottam Das Gupta and Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Deepak Kumar – also bought 1,130 sq m on October 12, 2021, and 1,020 sq m on September 1, 2021, respectively, from MRVT.
Gupta was Chief Revenue Officer in Ayodhya for almost three years till September 2021. As CRO (an officer of Additional District Magistrate rank), he was responsible for all land matters delegated to him by the District Magistrate in Ayodhya.
Amongst others, who bought land from MRVT in Barhata Manjha village are Indra Pratap Tiwari (alias Khabbu Tiwari), the MLA from Gosaiganj in Ayodhya district (2,593 sq m on November 18, 2019); and Umadhar Dwivedi, an IAS officer of UP cadre who retired as Commissioner, Allahabad (now Prayagraj) nine years ago, and now lives in Lucknow (1,680 sq m on October 23, 2021).
The plots purchased by relatives of these officials don’t fall in the 21 bighas under dispute but local officials say that the fact that the seller in all these cases is MRVT, named as an accused, raises questions of propriety.
Ronghai and his family, meanwhile, continue to live far away from Ayodhya in Sahavpur village, about 25 km from Prayagraj.
While Ronghai was not available in his residence, his wife Ghabrain and daughter-in-law Kachhrahi said they possessed less than 2 bigha in their village. “I don’t know about any land in Ayodhya. He (Ronghai) never told us about such a deal. He has not visited Ayodhya for several years,” said Ghabrain.
When contacted, Mahadev, the original complainant, said, “We had sold a part of land and MRVT did not take its possession for several years. We came to know only when property dealers told us they have bought the land. They wanted to occupy even the adjoining land that belongs to me which I did not sell.”
When asked about Ronghai’s daan patra, Salikram Mishra, a trustee in MRVT, told The Indian Express, “Ronghai worked with us for few years. People are raising this issue after 28 years as they are aware of increasing land prices. We had hired many retired officials of revenue department so I am sure all required legal formalities must have been fulfilled when deals were made.”
When contacted, Anuj Jha, who is now Director, Panchayati Raj, said: “I ordered the probe. The case is currently in the ARO (assistant records officer) court.”
25 YEARS ON, A CASE IS REGISTERED
1990s: Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust acquires large tracts of land in villages in Ayodhya. It got a Dalit employee, Ronghai, to buy nearly 21 bighas from their Dalit landowners.
June 3, 1996: Ronghai signed an unregistered donation deed (daan-patra) and donated the entire 21 bighas to MRVT.
September 3, 1996: The said land is listed in the name of MRVT in records.
September 18, 2019: Mahadev, a Dalit villager in Barhata Manjha village, files a complaint with the Board of Revenue that land belonging to Dalit families has been “illegally transferred” to a non-Dalit.
October 30, 2019: On the order of Board of Revenue, Divisional Commissioner, Ayodhya sets up a committee comprising Additional Commissioner Shiv Pujan and then Additional District Magistrate Gorelal Shukla.
February 1, 2020: The two-member committee submits the inquiry report to MP Agrawal, Divisional Commissioner, Ayodhya.
October 1, 2020: Then District Magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha approves the inquiry report and recommends action against MRVT and certain government officials for “illegally transferring land (of a Scheduled Caste person) through an unregistered donation deed”.
March 18, 2021: Divisional Commissioner Agrawal approves the inquiry report and forwards it to the Board of Revenue for further action.
August 6, 2021: A case is filed in the court of the Assistant Record Officer (ARO) Bhan Singh in Ayodhya for correction of the order of August 22, 1996, and “return the land in question to the state government.”
[Update: Ronghai, who is 60 plus now, called The Indian Express on January 7 on phone and said, “I still work with them (MRVT) and get Rs 5000 per month salary from Delhi (the MRVT headquarters).” He said he is working in a family in his village which is associated with MRVT and gets salary from MRVT. When asked, he said he is not aware of the cancellation of the donation deed about transferring 21 bigha Ayodhya land to MRVT. When asked about a possible legal battle, he said, “Mere paas paisa nahin hai ladne ke liye, main kaise karunga (I don’t have the money for legal battle, how will I do this?).”]
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