Opinion | Is there a scam in recent land deal by Ram Temple Trust?

Image Source : INDIA TV

Opinion | Is there a scam in recent land deal by Ram Temple Trust? 

The heat of next year’s UP assembly elections appears to have reached the Ayodhya Ram temple, with some opposition parties alleging that Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust has purchased Rs 2 crore worth land at nine times the market price. On Monday, the Trust promptly rejected the allegation as “politically motivated and misleading.”

It was alleged that the piece of land was first registered for purchase at Rs 2 crore, and within ten minutes, the plot was resold to the Trust at Rs 18.5 crore. Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh demanded that the CBI and ED must probe this deal, while former Samajwadi Party MLA Pawan Pandey described it as a big scam. Both Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took to Twitter to describe this as a “sin”. Rahul tweeted: “Shri Ram is truth, justice and dharma incarnate, And to steal in his name is anti-dharma”. Priyanka tweeted: “Crores of people gave donations out of faith and devotion. Misuse of donations is ‘adharma’, sin and insult to faith.”

India TV reporters spoke to the parties involved and went through the sale documents. The exact location of the plot of land is near the Ayodhya railway station adjoining the Ram Temple premises. This is not the only plot that the Trust has purchased. Several other plots were purchased at market rates. The controversial plot was also bought at market rate. The entire payment for land and stamp uty was made through online and no cash was given.

Three months ago, on March 18, 2021, the Trust purchased 12,080 sq. metres of land (slightly more than a hectare from Sultan Ansari and Ravimohan Tiwari. The deal was struck at 7.15 pm on that day for Rs 18.5 crore. But five minutes before this sale,  at 7.10 pm, another sale was done for the same piece of land between the original owner Kusum Pathak and Sultan Ansari. Ansari bought the land from Kusum Pathak for Rs 2 crore, and five minutes later, sold the same land to the Trust for Rs 18.5 crore. The witnesses were the same for both deals. The Mayor of Ayodhya Rishikesh Upadhyay and the member of the Trust Anil Mishra signed the registered sale deeds as witnesses. Samajwadi Party leader Pawan Pandey produced copies of both sale deeds and questioned how the same piece of land bought at Rs 2 crore was sold after five minutes at Rs 18.5 crore.

Our reporter Ruchi Kumar went to Ayodhya and reported that the deal goes back to an agreement that was struck 10 years ago. She reported that the plot of land located 2 km away from the proposed Ram temple, was being acquired to distribute among people who were displaced after the land for the main temple was acquired. The secretary of the trust, Champat Rai, in a statement issued on Monday, pointed out that land prices in Ayodhya have increased manifold after the 2019 Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya dispute. “The present rate is almost Rs 5,000 per sq.ft., and for the 12,000-plus sq. metre plot, the market rate is roughly Rs 60 crore”, said a Trust official.

It so happened that in 2011,  the land’s original owners – Kusum Pathak and Harish Kumar Pathak – had entered into an agreement with Sultan Ansari’s father Nanhe Ansari for Rs 2 crore.  The agreement was being renewed for 10 years, but the sale was not registered at that time due to ongoing litigation. The land was first described as Waqf property, and later more claimants came up. The Ansari family continued to renew the agreement with Pathak family. In September 2019, two months before the SC verdict came, an agreement to sell was signed for Rs 2 crore. In November, 2029, after the Supreme Court gave its verdict, land prices in Ayodhya skyrocketed. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath gave approval to New Ayodhya Plan, that included building of an airport and several other development projects. When the Trust expressed its willingness to buy the land, the Ansaris said they would like to sell it at market rate. Sultan Ansari is a local builder, and he had struck a deal with Pathak family way back in 2011. Since the litigation over the land was over, all the three parties, the Pathaks, Ansaris and the Trust came together, and decided to get the sale registered. Rishikesh Updhyay, the mayor of Ayodhya,  and Anil Mishra, a member of the Trust, had been signed all the sale deeds for land acquired for the Trust.

The working president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Alok Kumar told India TV reporter that even before the SC judgement came in 2019, the circle rate for this piece of land was Rs 5.85 crore. There had been no increase in land circle rates in Ayodhya since 2017. Normally, circle rates are considered lower than the prevailing market rates. With the New Ayodhya Plan being worked out, land prices naturally increased by at least three times, and on this basis, Rs 18.5 crore was paid to Ansari. To say, that the price of land rose within signing of the sale deed in five minutes is incorrect. The land price had been rising over the last ten years.

The question over who were witnesses in the sale deeds are immaterial. Because of spiralling land prices, the land that was sold for Rs 2 crore ten years ago, was sold to the Trust for Rs 18.5 crore.  Land deals in India used to be registered in the past, by paying part of the amount in cash and part in cheque, in order to conceal the real sale amount and evade stamp duty. Gone are the days when Rs 20 crore worth land was shown as sold for Rs 2 crore on paper. Times have changed and circle rates are fixed in every city. Secondly, stamp duty is now payable online and not accepted in cash.

The allegations of ‘scam’ made by SP and AAP leaders are based on half truths. The price of land increased not in five minutes, but over ten years. The charge of ‘scam’ against Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust is not going to stick. Since the UP assembly elections are scheduled for next year, the Ram temple is surely going to be one of the major election issues. The allegations of ‘scam’ that are being levelled against Champat Rai, secretary of the Trust, are politically motivated. Champat Rai’s entire life has been one of sacrifice, devoted to the cause of Ram Janmabhoomi, and he has a sterling character. Nobody will believe a word about Champat Rai making money on the sly. Champat Rai had been saying that “I will work for Lord Ram till my last breath, come what may”. Nobody can help, because the election fever in UP is fast approaching, and charges are going to be made by vested interests, left and right.

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