Updated: December 24, 2021 8:51:12 am
An investigation by this paper has shed light on several land transactions in the city of Ayodhya that raise grave questions of propriety and conflict of interest. By all accounts, land in the city has become a more attractive investment proposition after the Supreme Court 2019 verdict, and private buyers, many with links to the officialdom, have rushed in, in anticipation of windfall gains. The transactions reported in this paper involve members of the legislative assembly, and relatives of officials such as the divisional commissioner, sub-divisional magistrate, and revenue officials. Of course, buying property anticipating gains is smart consumer behaviour but a clear and disturbing pattern has emerged. At least four buyers are directly related to officials probing the seller for alleged irregularities in land transfer from Dalit residents. In other cases, the buyers are relatives of officials whose job is to authenticate these transactions.
At the heart of the issue is the nearly 21 bighas (about 52,000 sq m) of land that was acquired from Dalits in 1992, in what appears to be a violation of norms. According to the rules in the state, unless the transaction is approved by the district magistrate, the sale of agricultural land of Dalits to non-Dalits is not permitted. The Maharshi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT), which holds the land, acquired it from the Dalit villagers through a Dalit employee of the trust, who subsequently donated the land to the trust in June 1996 through an unregistered donation deed. In 2019, when the trust began selling the land, one of the original sellers complained, raising questions on the legality of earlier transactions. Thereafter, a committee was set up to investigate the matter. But even as various officials accepted the committee’s recommendations on taking action against the trust, relatives of officials began to purchase land from the entity under the scanner. The initial land transaction was problematic, and the subsequent set of transactions have raised even more troubling questions.
Following The Indian Express investigation, the Uttar Pradesh government has announced a probe. The government must ensure that the investigation is fair and transparent, and seen to be so too, especially since the parties concerned are government officials. However, it needs to be pointed out that such shadowy land transactions are not the exception. Land markets in India are characterised by information asymmetry and there have been many instances of the abuse of the state’s discretionary power. The revelations in Ayodhya underline the need for more stringent rules of disclosure, especially by all government officials, when land is being acquired by a trust blessed by the state or private players. This will tighten the regulatory architecture, and ensure greater transparency in the process of land acquisition.
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