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And the land grab goes on: Now, 26 hectares of land leased by govt to tribals and farmers

Acquired for resort being built by firm of Chhattisgarh Minister’s wife, son

Written by Dipankar Ghose | Raipur | Updated: August 1, 2017 10:26:48 am
chhattisgarh, forest land to build resort, chhattisgarh forest dept, indian express Responding to the findings of The Indian Express, Minister Agrawal said that his family had not violated any laws and that he had not used “my government position to get any work done”. (File photo)

Apart from acquiring 4.12 hectares of forest land and encroaching upon 13.90 hectares of government land to build a resort, Chhattisgarh Minister Brijmohan Agrawal’s family acquired an additional 26.83 hectares of “patta” land, given on lease by the government to farmers and tribals, records examined by The Indian Express show.

Records show that the revenue court under the Mahasamund District Collector is now looking into this acquisition, with some of those who sold their land alleging in sworn testimonies that they were forced to do so either because their tracts had already been encroached upon, or out of fear.

Of this “patta” land, records show, 2.35 hectares was acquired by Abhishek Agrawal, son of Brijmohan Agrawal, through five different transactions, and 11.82 hectares by Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd — a company in which Abhishek and Agrawal’s wife Sarita Agrawal are directors.

Responding to the findings of The Indian Express, Minister Agrawal said that his family had not violated any laws and that he had not used “my government position to get any work done”. However, records show that on May 15 this year, the Mahasamund tehsildar wrote to the District Collector, documenting 49 instances of acquisition of government “patta” land, totalling 26.83 hectares. The subject line of the letter read: “In connection with the illegal buying and selling of land and corruption in village Sirpur.” Also Read | Besides buying forest land, Chhattisgarh minister wife also encroached on 13.9 hectares of govt land | Click here

Records show that two other associates, listed as Arjun Singh and Abhiman Sunani, also acquired part of the land under the scanner, with the transactions registered between August 2008 and November 2015. In his letter, the tehsildar wrote, “From the report from the patwari dated May 5, it is clear that under the Chhattisgarh Land Revenue Act 1959, section 165, clause 7(a), this land can only be transferred after permission of the Collector, or a revenue officer of the rank of the Collector, with a written explanation, or it cannot be given. The sold land is documented as government land. Therefore, this is being forwarded to the Collector, Mahasamund for action under the Land Revenue Act 1959, section 165, clause 7(a).” Also Read | Chhattisgarh minister’s wife buys state forest land to build a resort, his dept says we can do nothing | Click here

When contacted by The Indian Express, Himshikhar Gupta, Collector, Mahasamund, said, “I would only like to say that it is under court procedure right now, and we are following that procedure.”

Speaking to The Indian Express on Monday, Minister Brijmohan Agrawal said, “Right now, there is an environment (against me). After this ends, I will give a point-wise answer. I have asked for many documents. After I get them, I will clear the air. There has been an investigation into this for eight years, why are notices emerging only now? This is being promoted from somewhere, and there is an attempt to defame me. Television channels have gone to the village and they (the villagers) have said that they are happy that this project is coming up and is bringing development. We have not put pressure on or troubled anyone. I have not used my government position to get any work done.” Also Read | ‘Kuch dalal aaye the… later, I found that mantriji bought the land’ | Click here

But records show that following the letter from the tehsildar, the land acquisition was taken up by a revenue court under the Collector, which issued notices to the villagers who sold the “patta” land and recorded the statements of some of them.

One of them, Premdas, stated in his court testimony on July 3: “I sold my land to Gajanand Patel, who was the sarpanch of Jalki and Chaporadih villages. They said that the people next of my land had sold the land, and they would not let me enter my land, which is why I sold (it)… I sold the land for Rs 30,000 an acre, and got Rs 60,000 for my two acres of land.” Also Read | Chhattisgarh Minister says didn’t know status, records say otherwise | Click here

Another, Rajaram Marar, stated on July 3: “My land had been bricked-off by Minister Brijmohan Agrawal, and my land was within this boundary. It was at that time that Gajanand Patel came to make a deal. Because it was within the encroachment and I needed to get my son and daughter married, I needed the money. Which is why I sold the land. I received Rs 30,000 for the land.”

A third villager, Parvati Gadha, stated on July 3: “After the death of my husband, Gajanand Patel came to me and said that he needed a photograph for my appointment (to a government job) on compassionate grounds, and that I should sign on a piece of paper. Fake documents were made and my land was sold. I thought that the paper was for my appointment on compassionate grounds, which is why I signed the letter.”

Among those who submitted sworn testimonies on July 3 was Dukhmat, a woman belonging to the Kamar tribe, one of the seven listed under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group category by the Chhattisgarh government. Also Read | Will return land if anomalies in deal proved, says BJP minister | Click here

“I sold my land to Abhiman Sunani. I got a total of Rs 10,000 for my (0.61 hectares) land. I have only taken the money that I received for the land. I went to the registrar’s office to register my land. I did not take permission from the Collector to sell the land. I sold this land because of fear, and that it was falling in the Minister’s land. I have no objection if the transfer of this land is cancelled,” she stated.

Last Wednesday, The Indian Express had reported that Sarita Agrawal had bought 4.12 hectares of land, which was donated by a farmer Vishnu Sahu to the Water Resources Department in 1994 and then transferred to the Forest Department, for the resort near Jalki village in Mahasamund.

On Monday, this newspaper reported that 13.90 hectares of government land had also been encroached upon the resort, which is under construction, by Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd — and that the tehsildar had sent notices to the company in March red-flagging the violation.

The resort project came under the scanner following a complaint from a whistleblower to the Prime Minister’s Office on December 2, 2016. Also Read | Chhattisgarh govt, Minister worked to upgrade village that has wife’s resort | Click here

Apart from referring to the acquisition and encroachment, the complaint also documented the sale of “patta” land. “To remove small farmers and adivasis from their land, either through temptation or otherwise, is not just a violation of the Revenue Act, but can also affect the outcome of the 2018 Vidhan Sabha elections, as well as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and from the viewpoint of adivasi support can be detrimental. Therefore, an enquiry must be ordered,” it stated.

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