Raising questions of propriety and conflict of interest, Sarita Agrawal, wife of Chhattisgarh Minister and BJP leader Brijmohan Agrawal, acquired 4.12 hectares of forest land which was owned by the government and is now, along with her son, building a resort on it. The purchase, in September 2009, was red-flagged by several officials of the Raman Singh government, as recently as June 30 this year, but her husband’s Ministry put down in writing that “it’s not possible to take any action in the matter,” an investigation by The Indian Express has revealed.
Brijmohan Agrawal has been MLA of Raipur South since 1990 and is currently Minister for Agriculture, Water Resources and Religious Trusts and Endowments. When his wife bought the land, he was Minister for School Education, Public Works Department, Parliamentary Affairs, Tourism and Culture.
The resort, called Shyam Vatika, is being developed near Sirpur in the Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh, a site with several Buddhist excavations over the years. Significantly, Agrawal’s Ministry has identified this region as a potential tourist destination.
Not just the wife, his son, too, is involved with the project. Two companies, Aditya Srijan Private Limited and Purbasa Vanijya Private Limited, have acquired land for the same project. Registrar of Companies records show that the former company has both Sarita Agrawal and her son Abhishek Agrawal as directors while Purbasa Vanijya has Abhishek Agrawal as one of its directors.
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Records show that on March 2, 1994, along with five other farmers of Jhalki village, one Vishnu Ram Sahu gave these 4.12 hectares to the Water Resources Department as part of “daanpatra”, a system where private individuals give their lands to the government for public good as “daan”.
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Almost immediately, this plot, as part of a total of 61.729 hectares, was handed over to the Forest Department, in lieu of land submerged by a minor irrigation project. Records show that the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests gave preliminary clearance to this transfer on May 2, 1994. Nine years later, Rs 22.90 lakh was spent on afforestation of this land, as well as building “cattle protection trenches.” The Union Ministry then gave final clearance to the transfer of land on December 17, 2003.
Land registry records accessed by The Indian Express show that Sarita Agrawal bought three “khasras” — 1.38, 1.37 and 1.37 hectares — totalling 4.12 hectares on September 12, 2009 for Rs 5,30,600.
Incidentally, this 4.12 hectares finds mention in the 2013 election affidavit of Brijmohan Agrawal with the affidavit listing the land as registered to his wife Records investigated by The Indian Express show that different government agencies — office of the Collector, Mahasamund; Commissioner, Raipur; Forest and Water Resources departments — all arrived at the same conclusion: that this was land meant to be with the government but because of “laxity in records,” it remained in Vishnu Ram’s name who then sold it to the Minister’s wife.
The plot first came under the Government’s scanner in March 2015 when one Lalit Chandranahu of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangh of Mahasamund district wrote to Mahasamund Collector Umesh Kumar Agrawal and the then Raipur Commissioner Ashok Agarwal alleging that while the plot was transferred to the government, revenue records did not show this.
In August 2016, Chandranahu sent a second complaint that the land had been bought by Sarita Agrawal.
Based on this complaint, the Collector and the Commissioner, now Brijesh Mishra, asked the Forest and Water Departments to provide records of the plot’s ownership Barely four months later, another complaint dated December 2, 2016, was sent to the Prime Minister’s Office by a whistleblower that mentions the acquisition of this forest land.
It said: “Respected Modiji, look at the irony, some influential people have now usurped government land in their name, This has been done in a complete violation of all norms and government directions, because as you know, there is a set procedure for distribution of government land and without the state Cabinet’s approval this cannot be distributed.”
This letter was forwarded by the PMO to Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary Vivek Dhand on December 26 asking for the petitioner’s identity to be kept confidential. Dhand forwarded the letter to the Mahasamund Collector asking for an enquiry on January 13, 2017.
On March 16, 2017, the Collector responded to the Chief Secretary, noting that that land had been given to the Forest Department but since there was “laxity” in changing the name in the revenue records, it remained in the name of the original owner Vishnu Ram who sold it to Sarita Agrawal.
But even as every single government agency has reiterated that land that was sold was forest land, each passes the buck. In a letter on April 13 this year, Commissioner Raipur Brijesh Mishra wrote to the Collector to say that action should now be taken through the Forest, Revenue and Water Resources Departments.
For its part, the Forest Department has written two letters since November 2016, asking the Water Resources Department to make a change in the revenue records.
But Brij Mohan Agrawal serves as Water Resources Minister and in a letter to the Collector on November 22, 2016, the Mahasamund Water Resources department said that while it had been considered that the 4.12 hectares was forest land, it was found after an investigation into Lalit Chandranahu’s complaint that it had been sold in the name of Sarita Agrawal. “Yah baat tab saamne aayi jab Shri Lalit Chandranahu vanmandaladhikari mahasamund se shikayat ki gayi aur unke dwaara jaanch mein paya gaya ki bhumi khasra no. 117, naya 802/1,802/2, 802/3 ke roop mein daankarta dwaara Shrimati Sarita Agrawal pati Shri B.M Agrawal ke naam se vikraya kar di gayi hai. Atah, is par vibhag dwara aaj dinank ko kisi bhi prakar ki karvahi kiya jaana sambhav nahi hai (This matter came to the fore when Shri Lalit Chandranahu complained to the forest officer Mahasamund and it was found after an enquiry that the land had been sold to Sarita Agrawal, wife of BM Agrawal. Therefore, it is not possible to take any action on this day),” the letter said.
On June 30 this year, the Collector again wrote to the Forest and Water Resources departments asking what action had been taken as a report also had to be sent to Chhattisgarh’s Economic Offences Wing and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.