Fatehpur/Prayagraj: The prominent, government-aided Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS) in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, has landed in fresh trouble with the Fatehpur police lodging an FIR against eight of its officials, including the vice-chancellor and two pro vice-chancellors, for criminal conspiracy, and under the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020.
This comes a month after its top officials received notices from the Uttar Pradesh Police in connection with alleged conversions of Hindus to Christianity in Fatehpur.
UP special task force (STF) set up by the state is also on the “verge of completion of its preliminary probe” in at least two old allegations against some of these officials, ThePrint has learnt.
The latest FIR against eight SHUATS officials was lodged on 20 January, 2023, on a complaint from a former student who alleged that he was made to convert to Christianity with promises of a job, money and “marriage to a beautiful girl”.
In the FIR, a copy of which is with ThePrint, Savendra Vikram Singh, a resident of Bahauddinpur village in Gosainganj area of Sultanpur district, has alleged that he visited Fatehpur in December 2021 where he met Ram Chandra Paswan of Sujarahi village in Khaga tehsil who asked him to convert to Christianity and said he won’t have to “do any work” after that.
Paswan, who ran a changayi (wellness) sabha in Sujarahi was arrested by the Fatehpur cops along with wife Neermati on 2 July, 2022, for allegedly “promoting Christianity and encouraging locals to follow the religion” and “distributing the Bible”, according to an FIR lodged by a Bajrang Dal member, ThePrint had reported.
He allegedly conducted exorcisms to “get rid of bad spirits through prayers to Jesus” and offered a special water to the visitors that the police now claim has painkillers in it.
“He told me, ‘We and our organisation will give you cash and your family will get free (medical) treatment,’ said Singh. “I was told that I would be given a job in SHUATS, Prayagraj, and I would get married to a beautiful girl. I got trapped and Ram Chandra took me to the Indian Presbyterian church in Deviganj where I was made to meet the pastor. Both (pastor and Ram Chandra) then promised me gifts and money and took me to SHUATS,” he said in the FIR lodged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and sections 3 and 5 (1) of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020.
In the FIR, Singh has also alleged that on SHUATS premises, he met the university V-C Rajendra B. Lal, also the founder-bishop of the Yeshu Darbar Trust, an NGO which holds religious congregations in at least 12 of its centres in Prayagraj and other cities of UP, Gujarat, and Jharkhand.
He also claimed to have met director (administration) Vinod B. Lal; director (internal quality assurance and assessment cell) Ajai Lawrence; public relations officer Ramakant Dubey; pro V-C (academics) Jonathan Lal; pro V-C (administration) S.B. Lal; dean (film and mass communication) Stephen Das; senior professor Derrick Denis; and around 40-50 other people who promised him cash, a job at SHUATS and a beautiful wife.
“Ajai Lawrence gave me Rs 15,000 in cash and Rajendra B. Lal told me that their organisation has a lot of money and they would give me more if required. Then, I returned to Deviganj church with Ram Chandra and the pastor and converted to Christianity,” he said.
ThePrint reached out to Singh for a comment but he chose to only share a copy of the FIR instead. He told ThePrint through an SMS, “I am very upset…I am getting a lot of threats which is why I am uncomfortable in speaking at present. I will talk to you as soon as I am comfortable.”
Speaking to ThePrint, Amit Mishra, SHO of Kotwali police station in Fatehpur, said that Singh is a poet-writer. “He is in his early 30s and had come to Fatehpur in search of a job. We have lodged an FIR against the accused. We suspect that many more people would come forward with such complaints,” he said.
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Funding of Yeshu Darbar NGO, bank accounts being probed
SHO Mishra said they were probing the funding sources of the Yeshu Darbar Trust and have so far come to know about around 70 accounts of the university and the trust that are being probed.
“Of the 70 bank accounts, four belong to the trust and the rest are that of the university. The Trust has 12 centres across three states — UP, Jharkhand and Gujarat. An FIR was earlier lodged against people associated with the Gujarat centre years ago,” he said.
The Fatehpur police Tuesday issued another notice to director (administration) Vinod B. Lal, seeking details of the total number of organisations being run by them.
In the notice seen by ThePrint, Lal has also been asked to appear before the police with information on funding of the Yeshu Darbar Trust and whether it had any links with the Changayi Sabha.
Probe on minority status
Even as the Fatehpur police is probing the conversion angle, the UP STF “has almost completed a preliminary probe” into two old complaints involving SHUATS officials that the agency reopened.
Highly-placed sources in UP Police confirmed to ThePrint that they have reopened a probe in a case against the university top brass for allegedly getting arm licenses illegally by submitting fake information about names and addresses.
They are also probing allegations that the varsity has not been granted the status of a “minority institution” by the central government, despite its claims. On its website, SHUATS has claimed that “the HRD Ministry in its letter dated 21 December, 2005, has recognised the institute as a minority institution.” SHUATS got the deemed university status on 15 March, 2000.
“Our probe has almost completed. Further action will be taken if wrongdoing is confirmed,” a UP Police source said to ThePrint when asked if an FIR can be lodged in the same.
In 2012, an FIR was lodged in the Sadar police station of the Pratapgarh district against SHUATS V-C Rajendra B. Lal, director (administration) Vinod B. Lal, current registrar Robin L. Prasad and then registrar Ajai Lawrence under IPC sections 420 (cheating), 467 (forgery of valuable security, will, etc), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), and 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) on a complaint by Prayagraj resident Rakesh Dwivedi.
In the FIR, of which ThePrint has a copy, it was alleged, “The aforementioned persons gave fake names and fake signatures despite holding government posts and took licenses for arms — revolver, rifle and double barreled gun from DM Pratapgarh.”
It said that though they stayed at their respective residences in Prayagraj since 1980, the accused had shown their addresses to be in Sadar Bazar, Pratapgarh, despite holding government posts (the varsity was then known as the Allahabad Agricultural Institute and all four held posts there).
The matter was probed and the investigating officer had, in March 2012, filed a final report (FR, a precursor to the closure report) after finding that the accused “were not faulty under the sections invoked.”
Further, the STF is probing allegations that the university has not been granted status of a minority institution by the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions (NCMEI) — the body authorised to grant minority status to educational institutions.
“The university has not been granted status of a minority institution by the UGC as claimed by it. However, claims of being a minority institution have been made and the same is being probed,” the sources quoted above said to ThePrint.
In an RTI reply to Prayagraj-based Suvrat Kumar Singh, who had written to the UGC asking if SHUATS has a minority institution status, the UGC on 8 November 2019 made it clear that “minority status is not granted by itself” to an education institution.
Since, the minority status is granted by the NCMEI, the UGC forwarded the query to the commission and the latter replied on 11 December, 2019, that “it has not conferred minority status certificate to SHUATS.” ThePrint has copies of the RTI replies.
University refutes allegations
Asked about Singh’s FIR, SHUATS PRO Ramakant Dubey said to ThePrint that Singh was a former B.Tech (dairy technology) student but did not pay fees after two semesters and did not appear for exams after that.
“He later came to the university and asked for his degree, saying he wasn’t getting a job anywhere, but the request was denied. Now, when an issue is being raised in Fatehpur, he has lodged an FIR. He has alleged that he arrived at the university on 25 December, 2021, but it was during Covid pandemic. Both the university and Yeshu Darbar were closed. He has alleged Lawrence gave him Rs 15,000 but the latter was out of station that day,” he claimed.
Earlier, V-C Rajendra B. Lal had approached the Allahabad High Court demanding that an FIR lodged on 15 April last year against 55 persons — 35 named and 20 unnamed — under sections of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 and IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 506 (criminal intimidation), 420 (cheating), and 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), be quashed.
However, the HC observed that since the V-C was not named in the FIR, he could not say there were allegations against him and had no locus standi to challenge the FIR.
ThePrint had reported that the V-C was among the three persons from SHUATS to have been slapped with notices by the Fatehpur police in December last year to appear before the investigating officer.
On the STF reopening the 2012 arms license case, Dubey said a final report was filed twice by police in the case and the Pratapgarh district court had upheld it. “Four persons of university were named in the case but the arms were procured only by V-C R.B. Lal who later surrendered his license,” he said.
On the allegation that the university has not been granted the minority status, Dubey told ThePrint that the university was granted the status of a state university by the UP government by education department via its letter dated 12 September, 1980, and in its letter dated 30 May, 1998, to the UGC, the state government had said that the Allahabad Agriculture Institute (AAI) (as it was earlier known as) was declared a minority institute under article 30 (1) of the constitution.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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