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How The BJP Gave A Gaushala The Short End of The Stick In Murky Land Deal

06/03/2016 8:51 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Allison Joyce via Getty Images
ASANGAON, MAHARASHTRA - SEPTEMBER 7: Cows are seen at the Shree Gopala Goshala cow shelter September 7, 2015 in Bhiwandi, India. Earlier this year the Maharashtra government banned the slaughter of cows and the possession of beef. Since the ban prevents people from selling their aging cows to slaughterhouses, the shelters have had an increase of cows being surrendered. There are an estimated 25,000 cow shelters around India that provide cattle with sanctuary from illegal slaughter and comfortable surroundings in which to spend their last years. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Ever since the Gujarat land scam story broke, I've wondered why no one in the media is linking it to the larger saga of nepotism in the state. The story that first appeared in a business daily exposed how land was allotted at throwaway price to the business associates of Anar Patel, daughter of Anandiben Patel, by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. It's ironic that the BJP has latched on to Modi's mantra of "Na khaunga na khane doonga (neither will I take a bribe, nor will I allow anyone else to), yet stays silent on the doling out of favours to a particular business group. If the BJP's land dealings are above board and transparent why are they so reluctant to order a free and fair probe? The answer lies within the question itself.

If the BJP's land dealings are above board and transparent why are they so reluctant to order a free and fair probe?

What is this scam? In a nutshell, a series of revelations has exposed that 250 acres of government land was allotted for a pittance without following any procedure, valuation or price determination. This allocation was in gross violation of all norms applicable for acquiring public land. Moreover, the land allotted to Ms Patel's business associate, Wildwoods Resorts (WWR), was in an area which was out of bounds as per a notification of the Government of Gujarat. Even though it was an eco-sensitive zone, the notification was violated with impunity in order to favour a business group. The Revenue Department, which was then headed by Anandiben Patel further aided the group in acquiring more of the agricultural land by tweaking some more rules with a clear motive of profiteering and commercial exploitation. The agreement at the time the land was acquired for the resort was to complete it within five years of purchase. Yet no activity has begun there. Surprisingly, no action has been taken against the group for not completing the project or starting the process of reacquiring the land.

What is further revealed is that the District Land Valuation Committee had two proposals for allotment of the said land--one was from the favoured Wildwoods Resorts & Private Limited (which, incidentally, had no experience in the resort business), and the other was from the Murlidhar Gau Seva Charitable Trust. This land was finally allotted to the business group at a price of ₹15 per square metre, whereas the trust that wanted to set up a gaushala there was quoted the price of ₹671 per square metre by the District Land Valuation Committee. The idea clearly was to discourage them from buying it at the exorbitant price quoted. This preferential pricing for the business group was despite the collector rate for the land being at ₹180 per square metre. This by itself speaks volume about the conduct of proceedings. If one were to go by the estimated market price of this land it would value at over ₹50 lakh per acre i.e. a total of ₹125 crores for 250 acres.

Even though non-farmers are not permitted to purchase agricultural land, WWR managed to buy 172 acres of it.

But this is not where the story ends. WWR continued to take full advantage of the largesse of the Gujarat Government, including the Chief Minister, and proceeded to purchase adjoining agricultural land. Even though non-farmers are not permitted to purchase agricultural land, WWR managed to buy 172 acres of it. How did they do that? By tweaking those rules too! It pays to know the people in power or to be related to them! The state government in 2011 permitted the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural as well to suit the business group associated to Anar Patel.

The questions are many, and even though they will likely go unanswered by the powers that be, it doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked. It still is not clear what procedure was adopted for allotting the land to WWR, which had zero experience of setting up resorts. What was the criterion for determination of price and reducing it by 92% of the collector rate? Why was the declared mode of public auction, as defined by Supreme Court, or invitation of bids not followed for price discovery? Only an independent probe monitored by the Supreme Court can determine the accountability of all those involved and responsible. The government either at the Centre or the state doing it is near impossible considering their past brazenness in similar scams. In the meantime, the BJP keeps gathering scam-feathers in its cap--whether it is the Vyapam scam, the PDS scam, the chikki scam or the land scam in Rajasthan, to name a few.

PS: Considering how the BJP's affiliate VHP keeps fighting for cow protection, why is it quiet on a proposal to set up gaushala being overlooked for a business venture on public land? Will they question their own in the BJP or continue their hypocritical stance on cow protection?

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