Amidst allegations of land grabbing, the Art of Living foundation has decided to come clean and explain in detail its land holding and how it came into their possession.
The AoL said that in the year 2005, preparations for the silver jubilee celebrations of the foundation were on. Many people from all over India and the world were expected at the ashram in Bengaluru for the event.
In light of this, the AoL purchased 14 acres of land from a person named Vijay. All the land documents were verified, a notice was issued in the newspapers calling for any objections.
After waiting for six months for any response, the land was bought from him at the market price. After AoL took legal possession of the land, a gentleman called Paul P challenged the sale claiming that Vijay's father was his business partner and owed him money, the ashram authorities said in a statement.
"Agni Sridhar (an intermediary), recently alleged that the ashram had grabbed the land of the aforementioned Vijay, a dalit, who as it turns out is a Brahmin. Paul coming on TV and saying that ashram has grabbed his land is baseless. We had even requested Vijay and Paul to settle their grievances amicably. We will never agree to any unfair practices and we will follow the verdict of the court," the statement added.
"Where is the question of land grabbing? We have always bought land at the current market value after checking all the legalities. Land laws in Karnataka are stringent and it takes a lot of time for the deal to become legal. By the time the land is registered, years pass and prices soar. After the deal is made, by the time you actually get possession, sometimes you pay ten times more. Nevertheless we have always paid the correct value for the land. Often we have lost land because we did not wish to indulge in bribery," the statement also said.
"In recent years, when more people began coming to the ashram, more accommodation and facilities were required. Over the years we have acquired an additional 22 acres of land from Kashinath, 8 acres from Colonel Sobti, 16 acres from Madhusoodan Baliga, 13 acres from Shiva Kumar and 15 acres from various farmers," the statement went on to say.
According to real estate experts, land costs around Rs 85 lakh per acre in the area where the AoL ashram is situated.
"Currently, we are in the process of acquiring few acres more of land for the proposed Ayurveda hospital and educational institutions," the statement said.
The AoL also said that when it started out, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar started receiving invitations from different parts of the world to give lectures on Vedic knowledge. During a visit to the German university, he was asked to decode Sanskrit manuscripts. Ravishankar decided to do the same, and along with some eminent personalities such as Justice V R Krishna Iyer (former Chief Justice of India) and others, established the Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth in 1981.
"In 1985, VVMVP applied for 100 acres of fertile land close to a forest on Bannnerghatta Road in Bengaluru to build a Vedic academy. Gundu Rao, the then chief minister of Karnataka, agreed to allot the land. In the couple of years that followed, it transpired that the land to be given to them had been given to Islamia Institute. The CM then gave alternative land to VVMVP off Kanakapura Road. This was 60 acres of barren land covered with rocks where nothing grew. There was not a single tree," the AoL stated.
"Although it was such arid land, VVMVP agreed to take it on lease for a period of 30 years. Even though the full amount was paid to the government at the time of the purchase, VVMVP had to wait an additional two years to take possession of it. By this time, locals had begun encroaching upon the land. When the officials gave VVMVP permission to take possession of the land, only 24 acres was available of the 60 acres, as villagers who had settled on the land had usurped the rest."
"The land authorities were on the verge of removing the settlers when Sri Sri Ravishankar intervened and said that VVMVP would take only 24 acres and allow the villagers to remain where they were," the ashram also stated.
"Subsequently, VVMVP approached the government to give the remaining land due to it somewhere else. It was in the mid nineties that the government allotted 19.5 acres on the opposite side of where the ashram now stands. This was also a barren hill. At present VVMVP still does not have all of 60 acres of land, which was allotted to it in the mid eighties and is still awaiting an additional 16.5 acres," the statement said.
"Since some malefactors have come up with stories that the Art of Living ashram has grabbed land from poor people, the foundation felt compelled to present the truth behind each piece of land possessed by VVMVP. Then VVMVP bought another eight acres next to the lake near the ashram. This land was purchased from people around the lake, which was all set to be used for a poultry farm, the ashram said in the statement.