New Delhi: There has been something of a land rush in Ayodhya ever since the Supreme Court allowed the construction of the Ram temple in a November 2019 verdict. Those who have recently bought land within a 5-km radius of the temple include the Ayodhya mayor, an MLA, a member of the Uttar Pradesh OBC Commission, and relatives of several bureaucrats and officials, an investigation by the Indian Express has found.
Published Wednesday, the report noted that the official Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has acquired about 70 acres of land since it was set up in February 2020, but private buyers, including local officialdom, are also rushing in, “anticipating hefty gains as the project gathers momentum”.
The report provides details of 14 land deals, including one set of transactions that raised serious “questions of conflict of interest”. In a follow-up report about these transactions, the Indian Express detailed how the Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT) sold plots to the relatives of government officers who were themselves tasked to probe the trust for irregularities in land transfer from Dalit villagers. This, said the report, pointed at the very least towards a breach of “propriety”.
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MRVT transactions raise questions
The MRVT, founded by Mahesh Yogi, acquired “large tracts of land” from Barhata Manjha village near the Ram temple site in the 1990s, including about 21 bighas from Dalit residents. To acquire these 21 bighas, the MRVT used the services of a Dalit employee who bought the land and in 1996 ‘donated’ it to the trust via an unregistered donation deed (daan-patra).
In 2019, one of the Dalit residents complained to the Board of Revenue that his land (3 bighas) was “illegally transferred” and a panel was set up to probe the matter.
In October 2020, the then-district magistrate approved the panel’s report recommending action against the MRVT and some government officials for “illegally transferring land (of a Scheduled Caste person) through an unregistered donation deed”, the Indian Express report on the MRVT transactions said.
Ayodhya divisional commissioner M.P. Agrawal approved this in March 2021, and a case was filed in 6 August to return the land to the state government. However, the Express report stated that even as Agrawal forwarded the inquiry report to the Board of Revenue for action, his relatives bought land from MRVT.
The Express report said: “[W]hile the case against the trust is pending, Agarwal’s father-in-law and brother-in-law had bought 2,530 sq m and 1,260 sq m land, respectively, on December 10, 2020 from MRVT in the Barhata Manjha village.”
Furthermore, close relatives of two other government officers — Deepak Kumar (deputy inspector general of police) and Purshottam Das Gupta (Ayodhya chief revenue officer for three years until September 2021) — also bought land from the MRVT in September and October respectively. Das Gupta, notably, was responsible for all land matters delegated to him by the district magistrate in Ayodhya.
“The plots purchased by relatives of these officials don’t fall in the 21 bighas under dispute but local officials say that the fact that the seller in all these cases is MRVT, named as an accused, raises questions of propriety,” the Express report said.
Others who bought land from MRVT in Barhata Manjha village include Indra Pratap Tiwari, the MLA from Gosaiganj in Ayodhya district, in November 2019, and Umadhar Dwivedi, a retired UP-cadre IAS officer, in October 2021.
Other land purchases near Ram temple site
Several other officials and politicians (or their relatives) have also bought land near the Ram temple site from other sellers in Ayodhya. Those who bought land in their own name include Ayodhya mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay, who purchased a 1,480 sq m plot two months before the Ayodhya verdict, and state OBC Commission member Balram Maurya, who bought 9,375 sq km in February 2020.
In addition, Dinesh Ojha, a peshkar (court official) working with Bhan Singh, the assistant record officer, who is hearing cases against MRVT, has also been linked to a plot purchase in Tihura Manjha. Ojha’s daughter bought 2,542 sq m in March 2021.
Family members of the state information commissioner Harshvardhan Shahi, Ayodhya MLA Ved Prakash Gupta, and former Ayodhya sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Ayush Chaudhary are among other buyers of land within a 5-km radius of the temple site, the report added.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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