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Art of Living faces land-grabbing charge

Last updated on: July 01, 2010 14:35 IST
A month after the alleged shooting at its Bengaluru ashram, the Art of Living Foundation now confronts charges of land grabbing.

The allegation comes a day after AoL stated it had received extortion calls demanding Rs 42 crore (Rs 420 million), failing which the institution would be defamed.

Non-Resident Indian Paul P has alleged that AoL grabbed 15 acres of land on Kanakapura Road near Bengaluru where the AoL ashram is situated. Paul claimed he approached an intermediary, Agni Shridhar, after talks with AoL failed.

Paul said he bought the plot 12 years ago from a farmer named Mohan. However, Mohan's son Vijay refused to execute the sale deed.

"Even as I approached the court, Vijay handed the land over to AoL. When I met (AoL founder Sri Sri) Ravishankar two years ago, he promised to settle the issue, but now they are threatening me and asking me to forget about the land," Paul claimed.

Agni Shridhar, who was asked to mediate in the matter, said, "Ravishankar told me he was promoting Hinduism, and I should support him. Today they have cooked up a case of extortion against me."

The Foundation says it registered the plot in question after buying it legally from the owner, Vijay, on Feburary 5, 2007. 'The Art of Living has no association with Paul,' the ashram stated.

"Shridhar had visited the ashram with a proposal for initiating joint social development projects with his organisation as well as with other Dalit organisations. He requested the ashram authorities to review the projects. When senior faculty members visited Shridhar, instead of discussing the projects, he threatened to malign the organisation with the false allegations that he is currently making," ashram sources alleged.

After a couple of days, AoL faculty members started receiving threatening calls demanding Rs 42 crore to stop him (Shridhar) from defaming the organisation," the AoL sources claimed.

Sources in the Bengaluru police feel there is a constant effort by the ashram to get its security enhanced. Some members in the ashram, they add, feel if spiritual gurus like Baba Ramdev could be given 'Z' category security, why should Sri Sri Ravishankar be left out.

Police sources say there is no threat perception to Sri Sri Ravishankar, and hence the question of providing him 'Z' category security does not arise.

After the alleged shooting incident at the ashram on May 30, Ravishankar's security was enhanced.

A spokesperson for the ashram told Rediff.com that Sri Sri Ravishankar has always maintained that he did not want security as it would prevent him from meeting people.

"We have on many occasions been offered enhanced security, but we have refused it always," the AoL spokesperson added.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru