Gram panchayat land worth crores. Rent Rs. 1. No records available. The story of Uttar Pradesh

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By Rishi Majumder

Sold for a song The land on Lucknow’s outskirts that was alloted to a trust run by SP leader Ambika Chaudhary’s sister
Sold for a song The land on Lucknow’s outskirts that was alloted to a trust run by SP leader Ambika Chaudhary’s sister

NINE BIGHAS of prime land lies vacant at Deva Road on the outskirts of Lucknow. The price of this land (a bigha is 0.625 acre), now overrun by wild grass, weed and bushes, is more than Rs 9 crore. Until 2005, this land belonged to the Nawbastakala gram panchayat. “The villagers were planning to build a school there,” says Bansi Dhar Singh, who was gram pradhan then. Five homeless families stayed on this land with the gram panchayat’s permission. Then the families were evicted and the land snatched from the gram panchayat, to be given free to a private trust called the Phooleshwari Devi Shikshan Sansthan.

Gram panchayats in Uttar Pradesh were appointed custodians of land taken from zamindars and royalty by the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950. They are to maintain the land through land management committees, and use it for haats or schools. If a committee so desires, it can assign a portion of this land to homeless or landless members of the village.

The allotment of gram panchayat land in UP is governed by two state government orders issued on 6 June 1981 and 9 May 1984. According to the 1984 order, “private persons, enterprises and companies” can be allotted gram panchayat land only after they pay “twice its current market value”. So, why was the Phooleshwari Devi Shikshan Sansthan given land for free?

Phooleshwari Devi is the mother of Ambika Chaudhary, who was the revenue minister under Mulayam Singh Yadav when the land was allotted. His sister Saroj manages the trust. The Revenue Department is the apex body on land allotment. So, when people found out that the minister had allotted prime land to a trust managed by his sister, there was considerable outrage. But Chaudhary believes otherwise. “Is there anything wrong if vacant gram sabha land is allotted to a private institute run by my relatives? This is not an isolated example as thousands of such allotments have been made in the past,” he says.

Documents with TEHELKA back his claim. There is proof of 18 private trusts in Uttar Pradesh that have been allotted gram panchayat land for free, or on rent as low as Rs. 1 per annum.

The 1984 order says gram panchayat land can be allotted for free only to the state government’s ‘service departments’ that deal with welfare concerns like education or health. All Central government departments, and even commercial departments of the state, such as the UP Power Corporation Ltd or the Agricultural Produce Marketing Board (Mandi Parishad), will have to pay the ‘current market value’ to acquire gram panchayat land.

Politicians head four of the private trusts that got gram panchayat land. The parties they belong to were part of the UP government at the time of allotment. So, besides Chaudhary, there is former BJP MP Rajnath Singh Surya, who is the Seva Samparn Sansthan chairman. This trust was allotted land for free when the BJP was in power in 1999. Then there is Vishram Singh Yadav, who is the SP MP from Bilgram in Hardoi district. Katiyari Degree College in Hardoi, established by a trust headed by Yadav, was allotted land during Mulayam’s reign at a meagre rent of Rs. 150 per annum.

BUT ALMOST as shocking as Chaudhary’s case is that of Ram Aasre Vishwakarma, higher education minister in the SP government. As minister, he could have allotted land for a government university. It wouldn’t have been illegal if gram panchayat land had been allotted free for this purpose. However, he recommended allotment of land to the Rambachan Yadav Mahavidyalaya, a private institution which he manages in Azamgarh district. It charges annual fee of Rs. 30,359 for B.Ed courses. Yet it has been allotted an astounding two hectare for only Rs. 750 per annum.

A 1981 order says land will be allotted only after recording every fact. But there are no records for many places

So, while Chaudhary has allotted land to a trust headed by his sister, Vishwakarma unabashedly allotted the same to a trust he was at the helm of.

This ‘rent per annum’ is for a 99-year lease. Thus, even if trusts have been charged token rents, they are as good as owners of erstwhile gram panchayat land. This is the case with the Paramshakti Peeth, which has been allocated 43 acres worth more than Rs. 20 crore for a rent of Rs. 1 per annum. The peeth, founded by Sadhvi Ritambhara (also known as ‘Didi Maa’) is a well-known religious organisation with offices in California and London. The land was allotted when the BJP was in power in 2001. Another religious trust allotted land during BJP rule was the Jai Gurudeo Dharam Pracharak Sansthan founded by Baba Jai Gurudeo. It was allotted land in 2007 at a rent of Rs. 150 per annum.

In some cases, the government has passed special orders exempting private enterprises from the 1984 order that asks them to pay twice the market value. In 2003, the SP government moved an energy policy that specified no premium would be charged for land used to “promote the generation and distribution of electricity”. As a result, Reliance Energy was allocated 300 bighas of gram panchayat land for an annual rent of only Rs. 100 per acre. But the private bodies listed with TEHELKA (see list) cannot hide behind such exemptions. Their being allotted gram panchayat land is an outright violation of the law.

‘Is there anything wrong if vacant gram sabha land is allotted to a private institute run by my kin?’ asks Chaudhary

“It might well be that some of the private trusts allotted gram panchayat land are doing excellent social work,” says RTI activist Izhar Ahmad Ansari who dug up the list of violators. “But the law that says they must be charged twice the market value of the land.” According to Ansari, sidestepping this law means giving a free hand to those who want to use such trusts to grab land for themselves.

Besides private trusts, the list points to land allotted for free to private enterprises like power plants, refineries and sugar mills. One such firm is the Badhauli Sugar Distillery Ltd that has been allotted more than 31 hectare for free. The list has four such commercial enterprises in it. There is also a private individual, Tej Pratap Singh, who was given more than half a hectare in Hardoi for the ridiculous sum of Rs. 8,695 in 2004 — to set up a flour mill.

BUT THE worst is yet to come. These 18 names, exposed by Ansari after four years of repeatedly filing RTI complaints and PILs, are only the tip of the iceberg. To understand how, follow this sequence of events:

10 November 2006: The PIO at the UP Revenue Department receives an RTI application from Ansari asking for details of any gram panchayat land allotment to private bodies exceeding 5 bighas, from 1991 onwards.

Tough lesson Ambika Chaudhary was the education minister during Mulayam’s reign
Tough lesson Ambika Chaudhary was the education minister during Mulayam’s reign

1 February 2007: After not receiving a reply, Ansari files a complaint with the State Information Commission (SIC).

28 March 2007: PIO Ramakant Pandey responds saying the department “has not kept the information that has been sought even though it should have. That is why there has been a discussion on this matter within the department and a decision has been taken — to prepare a format and procure this information from the outset (that would be from 1981) — not just from 1991”.

22 August 2007: The SIC is provided with only 20 names of private bodies that have been allotted gram panchayat land, along with a letter, which says that this information only consists of allotments made from 2004 to 2006, and that more “information is being procured”.

24 December 2007: The SIC imposes a fine of Rs. 25,000 on PIO Pandey for not providing the information.

7 January 2008: Ansari files another RTI application, asking specifically for the details of gram panchayat land that has been allocated ‘for free’ to private bodies.

15 August 2008: The SIC receives a letter from the PIO at the Revenue Department saying “such records have not been maintained in any district in the whole of UP”.

14 November 2008: The Revenue Department writes to district magistrates and divisional commissioners who are in charge of land allotments asking them to provide the information Ansari has asked for.

27 November 2008: The Revenue Department writes to the SIC saying despite the above-mentioned notice, “no information has been received from the districts”.

4 December 2008: The Revenue Department issues another notice to district magistrates and divisional commissioners to present themselves in person and give a reply to Ansari’s query by 30 December.

30 December 2008: The SIC informs Ansari of the Revenue Department’s efforts and says the information will take time.

15 January 2009: This time, the Revenue Department presents the SIC with just 10 names of private bodies that have been allotted gram panchayat land for free. Some of these names were already there in the 20 names submitted earlier. The department says that this is all they can find.

29 January 2009: PIO Pandey now requests the SIC to cancel the fine of Rs. 25,000 imposed on him as “the information has still not been provided to Ansari”, even by the PIOs who came after him. So why should he be penalised alone?

3 February 2009: The Revenue Department writes Ansari another letter saying that procuring the information will take more time. They attach with this letter the same 10 names they have given before.

22 September 2009: The Revenue Department writes to the SIC saying they can’t find any allotment details other than what they have already provided. “We have provided whatever information we could find. The applicant is continuing to file these complaints in order to trouble us,” it says.

Now, let us come to the other order governing the allotment of gram panchayat land, passed on 16 June 1981. This stipulates that such land will be allotted only after the details have been “recorded in a register in a format that incorporates every detail and signed by the officials involved”. Also, that on 15 January and 15 July of every year these records will be forwarded to the Revenue Department.

Crusader Izhar Ahmad Ansari’s RTI application exposed the UP land scam
Crusader Izhar Ahmad Ansari’s RTI application exposed the UP land scam

Yet, as has been stated above by the department itself, these records have apparently not been kept and the registers are not to be found. Or aren’t they?

The first list of names was given to Ansari on 22 August 2007. This was more than two months after Mayawati was sworn in as chief minister on 13 May 2007. A look at the list shows that the allotment details given out by the BSP government indict only SP and BJP politicians. But, like the SP and the BJP, the BSP has been part of UP governments too. Can it be that not a single BSP politician is involved in such fraudulent gram panchayat land allocations?

THIS LIST lies in many ways. For one, it misses some obvious names. Like gram panchayat land given to a trust named after Sanjay Gandhi in Pilibhit, where Maneka Gandhi is the BJP MP. It resulted in a furore, which led to a CBI inquiry. Maneka denied wrongdoing. The Revenue Department does not seem to have a record.

Or like Jaya Jaitly, who was chairperson of the Sahkari Haat Samiti, which was apparently allocated gram panchayat land at Ganeshpur-Rehmanpur village in Lucknow district. When Ansari approached the district authorities and the State Information Commission to obtain details, he was told that the documents have gone missing. In a show of sincerity, the district magistrate’s office even lodged an FIR about file number 121/D LRC going missing.

The districts are a different story altogether. Ansari filed RTIs and asked officials in each district whether such allotments had been made. They either didn’t answer or replied in the negative. Yet the list with TEHELKA shows three such allotments in Hardoi. The same is the case with Allahabad. And many more.

The Mayawati government is offering land allotment details only of the SP and the BJP. What of the BSP?

And finally, the money. Going by what the state Revenue Department says, this isn’t such a big scam after all. The values of gram panchayat land that Surya, Yadav and Vishwakarma have been linked to are pegged at only Rs. 5 lakh, Rs. 4.83 lakh and Rs. 17 lakh respectively. Why should one be worried about such paltry sums?

If you go by the records, the land Chaudhary has been accused of trying to usurp is valued at just Rs. 31 lakh. “But the price of land here today is 1 crore per bigha,” says former Nawbastakala gram pradhan Bansi Dhar Singh. “So the value of nine bighas would be Rs. 9 crore.”

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In the name of trust

The religious trusts, private educational institutions and sugar mills who benefited


ORGANISATION

SHRIMATI DRAUPADI DEVI DHARMADA TRUST
Rudrapur Khajni, Gorakhpur

FOUNDER CHAIRMAN
Sudhakar Prasad Ram Tiwari
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE Establishing Shrimati Draupadi Devi Girls Interim College
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 12 September 1994

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 1.02 LAKH
RENT Rs. 100 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER Khanjan Lal, secretary, Revenue Department
AREA Not provided
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

BODHISATTVA DR BR AMBEDKAR SANSKRITIK EVAM SHAIKSHIK SANSTHAN
Ibrahimpur village, Khurja tehsil, Bulandshahar district

CHAIRMAN JS Aditya
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a trust
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 22 May 1995

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 18.58 LAKH
RENT Rs. 100 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER Anees Ansari, secretary, Revenue Department
AREA Not provided
LOCATION Same as registered address


 ORGANISATION

SEVA SAMPARN SANSTHAN
G6, Murli Bhavan, 10A, Ashok Marg, Lucknow

CHAIRMAN Rajnath Singh Surya
REGISTRATION NUMBER 2410
PURPOSE Establishing a leprosy home
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 14 January 1999

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 5 LAKH
RENT Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER PC Sharma, principal secretary, Revenue Department
AREA Not provided
LOCATION Not mentioned


ORGANISATION

SHRIMATI PRAANPATI DEVI SMAARAK
Higher Secondary School, Para Phoolwariya, Ahraula, Azamgarh

MANAGER Suresh Giri
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE Establishing a higher secondary school
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 27 January 1999

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 1.76 LAKH
RENT Rs. 100 PER ACRE PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER P C Sharma, principal secretary, Revenue Department
AREA Not provided
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

PARAMSHAKTI PEETH
Vatsalya village, Mathura-Vrindavan Marg, Vrindavan

SECRETARY Sanjay Gupta
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For a religious trust
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 18 May 2001

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 12.75 LAKH
CURRENT MARKET VALUE Rs. 20 CRORE

RENT Rs. 1 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER Chandrapal, principal secretary, Revenue Department
AREA 43 acres
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

RAMBACHAN YADAV MAHAVIDYALAYA
Bahauddin Phoolpur, Azamgarh

MANAGER Ram Aasre Vishwakarma
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a varsity
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 11 April 2005

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 17 LAKH
RENT Rs. 750 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER Anant Kumar Singh, secretary, Revenue Department
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Higher Education Department
AREA 2 hectares
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

LODI KISAN MAHAVIDYALAYA
Chitauni Atrauliya, Azamgarh district

MANAGER Ram Sagar Yadav
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE Establishing a varsity
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 9 October 2006

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 22.05 LAKH
RENT Rs. 150 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER TP Pathak, secretary, Revenue Department
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Higher Education Department
AREA 2 hectares
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

PHOOLESHWARI DEVI SHIKSHAN SANSTHAN
Fefna village, Ballia district

MANAGER Saroj Chaudhary
REGISTRATION NUMBER 16930
PURPOSE Establishing a university
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 14 September 2004

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 31 LAKH
CURRENT MARKET VALUE Rs. 17 CRORE
RENT Not available

AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER TP Pathak, secretary, Revenue Department
AREA 8 bighas
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

KATIARI DEGREE COLLEGE
Harpalpur, Hardoi

MANAGER Vishram Singh Yadav
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE Establishing a degree college
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 2 February 2007

MARKET VALUE THEN Rs. 4.83 LAKH
RENT
 Rs. 150 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY WHO ORDERED ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER TP Pathak, secretary, Revenue Department
AREA OF LAND Not provided
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

JAI GURUDEO DHARAM PRACHARAK TRUST
Mathura

TRUSTEE Dr VH Lulla
REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE Establishing a religious trust
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 20 February 2007

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT Rs. 150 PER ANNUM
AUTHORITY WHO ORDERED ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
SIGNATORY ON ORDER TP Pathak, secretary, Revenue Department
AREA Not provided
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

PNB KISAN KALYAN TRUST
Sirkara village, Jaswantnagar tehsil, Etawah district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a farmers’ training centre
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 7 April 2004

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT
 Not available
AUTHORITY WHO ORDERED ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Banking Department
AREA 8 acres
LOCATION Same as registered address


 ORGANISATION

SHRI KASHI YADAV ENGINEERING COLLEGE
Banhaur, Azamgarh

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a private engineering college
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 17 March 2005

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
AREA 1.8 hectares
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

UP REFINERIES AND POWER PLANT
Shivrajpur village, Bara pargana and tehsil, Allahabad district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a township
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 20 May 2005

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT
 Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Serial Development Department
AREA 1.7 hectares
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

LAL BEHARI JAN KALYAN SAMITI
Ahirohi village, Gopa Mau pargana, Hardoi district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a degree college
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 5 December 2005

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Higher Education Department
AREA 1.2 hectares
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

BADHAULI SUGAR DISTILLERY LTD
Gangapur and Bikapur villages, Sadar tehsil, Hardoi district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a sugar mill
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 28 July 2006

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Higher Education Department
AREA 31.7 hectares
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

BALRAMPUR SUGAR MILL LTD
Gularia village, Gola tehsil, Lakhimpur district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a sugar mill
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 19 September 2006

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Sugarcane Department
AREA 0.8 hectare
LOCATION Same as registered address


ORGANISATION

NEW INDIA SUGAR MILL
Daak Bujurg village, Hata tehsil, Kushinagar district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE Establishing a sugar mill
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 7 November 2006

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
RENT Not available
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Sugarcane Department
AREA 4.6 acres
LOCATION Same as registered address


 PERSON

SHRI TEJ PRATAP SINGH
Bahar village, Sadar tehsil, Hardoi district

REGISTRATION NUMBER Not available
PURPOSE For establishing a flour mill
DATE OF ALLOTMENT 6 April 2004

MARKET VALUE THEN Not available
AMOUNT PAID Rs. 8,695
AUTHORITY ORDERING ALLOTMENT State Cabinet
RECOMMENDING AUTHORITY Industries Department
AREA 0.5 hectare
LOCATION Same as registered address

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rishi@tehelka.com

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