Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is running a yoga and meditation centre on land earmarked for the poor and landless, reports Imran Khan
THE ‘GURU of joy’ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been found guilty of encroaching more than five acres of government land worth Rs 50 crore in Karnataka. The land meant to be distributed to the poor and landless has been illegally acquired by Sri Sri, who has constructed an Art of Living meditation centre on it, violating the law.
Even though the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) wanted to fine ‘Guruji’ and had asked for the demolition of the building, a timely intervention by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has saved the Art of Living Foundation from facing legal action.
According to documents obtained by TEHELKA, MUDA had acquired 100 acres at Alanahalli village near Mysore in 1985, ’92 and ’97 for the development of residential colonies for 1.5 lakh landless poor. Out of the 100 acres notified by MUDA, 70 were developed and the rest was denotified and restored to the original owners.
“The land that Sri Sri acquired was left as a buffer zone and not developed as a residential layout as it allowed for the free flow of water from Chamundi Hills to Alanahalli tank. It was supposed to be converted into a botanical park,” says M Lakshmana of the Association of Concerned and Informed Citizens of Mysore.
However, in 2002, the land was acquired by the Art of Living through a proxy by the name of R Raghu, even when the land was in the possession of MUDA. And a building was constructed for conducting yoga and meditation classes.
Taking note of this, on 20 December last year, the then Deputy Commissioner of Mysore Harsh Gupta wrote to MUDA directing it to reclaim the government land from the Art of Living, and sought a response within seven days. Following the order, MUDA wrote to the tehsildar instructing him to serve a notice to Art of Living. The tehsildar’s office did so on 4 January, stating that the building constructed at Alanahalli was illegal and slapped a fine of Rs 1,000 on the organisation as per the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964.
Apart from this penalty, Art of Living was given two days time to demolish the building, failing which the department would clear the encroachment and slap an additional fine of Rs 25 per day.
Shunted out of the deputy commissioner’s post, Gupta, now assistant director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, says, “During my tenure, a survey was being conducted of the 1,500 acres of government land. And wherever discrepancies were found, notices and orders were issued. During that survey, we found out that the Art of Living had encroached upon five acres of government land.”
Gupta’s orders were not carried out. The same day, a letter from the chief minister’s office signed by Principal Secretary ISN Prasad prevented the deputy commissioner and the taluka administration from carrying out its duties.
The letter instructed the district and taluka administration against demolishing the Art of Living building on survey No. 41/F block (P6) in Alanahalli, saying, “The chief minister will take a decision on it.” However, Yeddyurappa did not bother to take any decision and the Art of Living continued construction activities on the land.
The Yeddyurappa regime let Art of Living construct buildings on the encroached land
“It was done to stop the precipitate action,” says Prasad. An Art of Living delegation had met Yeddyurappa and he had asked the district administration to refrain from action till a further decision is taken.
“That didn’t happen due to various reasons. But the current Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda will call a meeting with all the local officials,” says Prasad.
The Art of Living Foundation is alleged to have grabbed land at many places in Karnataka
Responding to the claims, Karthik Krishna of the Art of Living’s bureau of communication says, “Since 2003, we have been working to denotify this land that was falsely notified to extract a bribe, which we fought tooth and nail and were also slapped with a fine.”
The Art of Living has not encroached on any land, he says. The 5-acre plot was purchased by R Raghu from Gangu Belli Belliappa on 25 November 2002. Since then, the premises have been utilised with the permission of the landlord for conducting yoga and meditation classes, says Krishna.
“This is not the first time a case of land-grab has been brought against the Art of Living,” says Lakshmana. In Mandya district, the organisation has been accused of grabbing 20 acres. And a 2006 report on government land encroachments in the state had also found discrepancies in its Bengaluru ashram. In Mysore, apart from the five acres of government land, the Art of Living has encroached around seven acres worth Rs 70 crore near the tourist spot of Chamundi Hills.
V Balasubramaniam, former chairman of Land Task Force, says the AT Ramaswamy Committee report had found that the organisation had encroached upon 6.35 acres of government land in Agara village in Kengeri, Bengaluru. The committee claimed that the land encroached by the Art of Living was worth more than Rs 8 crore.
Lakshmana has filed a criminal complaint against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Yeddyurappa. “I have also lodged a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission, asking how a high-flying organisation like the Art of Living could obtain a site when poor and landless people are waiting for the past 30 years,” says Lakshmana.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.