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How Haryana govt helped Patanjali to buy lands illegally

June 24, 2019 13:05 IST

When agricultural holdings get fragmented over years, the state government has the power to step in and help farmers pool their land parcels for improving land productivity, after which the pooled land is divided up into larger plots.
Instead of the fragments they hold, a farmer gets a single contiguous patch of an equal size.
But, it is done only for agricultural holdings.
In Kot village, however, the consolidation has been ordered for the entire village land, including the hilly forested commons, which are already pooled.
This is not the first time that the Haryana government has attempted such a consolidation of Kot common lands.
This is the final part of a series on land purchase by the Patanjali group and its associates in Faridabad's Kot village in Haryana.

Part 1: How Patanjali 'broke' laws to acquire land in Aravalli hills

Part 2: Patanjali's maze of firms that do shady land dealing in Haryana

On February 27, the Haryana government passed an amendment to the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900.

The law is meant to protect forested areas not formally recognised as such.

In Haryana, about 75,000 acres of land, including about 800 acres of forested hilly terrain in Kot village, is such - called ‘gair mumkin pahad’, held as Shamlat or common land.

 

The amendment sought to do away with the protection accorded to Aravalli forests and allow real estate developers to expand into them.

The Supreme Court put a halt to this and passed some scathing comments against the state government for trying to bypass its orders protecting the Aravalli hills.

The state government has tried several other such steps over the past four years to dilute or do away with the legal protection that the Aravalli forests derive out of various laws and regulations.

For instance, it has been delaying identifying forested hilly tracts of the Aravallis as legal forests as directed by the Supreme Court in 1996.

But one legal move that the Haryana government made recently is specific to Kot village, where the Patanjali group and its close associates have bought large parcels of lands.

On February 1, 2019, the director general of Consolidation of Holdings for Haryana ordered that the village land holdings be consolidated.

‘Benefitting influential purchasers’

What is land consolidation and how could it benefit Patanjali group and its associates’ land in Kot?

When agricultural holdings get fragmented over years, the state government has the power to step in and help farmers pool their land parcels for improving land productivity, after which the pooled land is divided up into larger plots.

Instead of the fragments they hold, a farmer gets a single contiguous patch of an equal size.

But, it is done only for agricultural holdings.

In Kot, however, the consolidation has been ordered for the entire village land, including the hilly forested commons, which are already pooled.

This is not the first time that the Haryana government has attempted such a consolidation of Kot common lands.

Over last seven years, the state government has tried it thrice.

When this was attempted in 2012, the then director general of consolidation, IAS officer Ashok Khemka, had stopped it.

Cancelling the consolidation order issued by his predecessor, Khemka had written: “Of the total area of 3,184 acres notified for consolidation in village Kot, an area of 2,565 acres is ‘gair mumkin pahad’.

"In case the consolidation exercise of the entire village, including ‘gair mumkin pahad’ is carried out, it would wrongly benefit certain influential outsider purchasers of ‘gair mumkin pahad’.”

He had also informed his higher authorities that “the consolidation law meant to reverse fragmentation of agricultural holdings and for preserving the village commons was rampantly abused to allow influential private players to get possession of hilly and non-agricultural common land, including forests in the Aravallis located contiguously south of the Gurgaon-Faridabad road comprising the four villages of Mangar, Bandhwari, Rozka-Gujar and Kot.”

He had added: “Huge investments of black money and ill-gotten money have been made through companies in the purchase of land of some villages in Gurgaon-Faridabad districts to benefit from the consolidation scheme.”

Khemka had asked for investigations into these deals and the connivance of officials in permitting these.

The investigations were never instituted. Instead, Khemka was transferred out.

After his transfer, in 2013, the Haryana government passed yet another order for consolidation of Kot village.

This order was cancelled yet again because of internal comments from officials.

These comments are not available in public domain.

In 2018, the idea of consolidation of Kot village land was resurrected for a third time.

The villagers, on hearing of this, again passed a panchayat resolution that consolidation should not be undertaken.

This time, the director general of consolidation rejected the idea.

In June 2018, he wrote: “In the case of revenue estate of Kot, the total land is 3,184 acres, of which 258 acres is owned by private malkaanand 2,926 acres is ‘Shamlat pattiyaat kotand kharka’ - that is Shamlat land.

"Further, out of this 2,926 acres, 2,745 acres is ‘gair mumkin pahad’, and non-cultivable.

"Therefore there is little agricultural land available to consolidate.”

The latest move

In February 2019, the government again - for a fourth time - passed consolidation orders for Kot. Haryana’s current director general of consolidation, who issued the February order, justified the move.

He told Business Standard: “We have ordered consolidation only of agricultural land within the entire 3,184 acres.

"We are not asking for consolidation of non-agricultural land.”

But, he was contradicted by Vijayendra Kumar, the Haryana revenue secretary.

Kumar, responding to written queries, said: “Opinion of Legal Remembrancer, Haryana, dated 26.10.2012, clearly held that consolidation of all the agricultural land reflected in the revenue records or actually used for agricultural purpose should be done and the ‘gair mumkin pahad’, which have been fragmented and used as agricultural land with the passage of time, should also be included in the consolidation proceedings.”

The consolidation order could also contradict a Supreme Court judgment of 2011, which ordered the return of all common land, including Shamlat land, to Panchayats.

Following the order, Kot Panchayat filed a case to recover its common land, including all the hilly patches.

The hearings in the case are going on.

The revenue secretary, however, said the court case was a separate process, which the court would decide.

It had nothing to do with consolidation of Shamlat and hilly lands in Kot, he said.

In contrast, in 2018, Kot Panchayat’s case to recover its land was one of the two reasons given by officials while stopping consolidation of land.

While rejecting the consolidation proposal in June 2018, the director general of consolidation had said: “It has been further noticed that the title of the Shamlat taraf land’ has not been decided under the Punjab Village Common Lands Act, 1961 (which requires Shamlat lands to be vested with the Panchayat).

"Keeping in view the above-said facts, the consolidation proposal of village Kot is hereby declined,” he said.

Kesar Singh, a social activist and Kot Sarpanch Mundresh Devi's husband related an interesting coincidence: “The hearing of our case for recovery of commons to the panchayat was being held regularly, but it slowed down in January this year.

"The last regular hearing was held on January 29. As if almost on cue, on February 1, 2019, the consolidation order was issued.”

The revenue secretary did not respond to specific queries about the state government undertaking investigations into the purchase of Kot village commons and hilly areas by companies and entities like the Patanjali group.

Detailed questionnaires were sent to the Patanjali group, its spokesperson, its subsidiary companies and Acharya Balkrishna, who heads business operations for Patanjali founder Baba Ramdev.

None of them responded, despite repeated reminders.

Pravin Kumar Sharma, who has been buying land in Kot along with others for the Patanjali group (although he denied any close association with the group), gave another reason to justify consolidation of Kot commons.

He said: “Consolidation in Shamlat land will help villagers. Lands shall be demarcated for roads and access to the village.

"Right now, they do not even have access to their crematorium and pasture land.

"It is wrong to believe that such consolidation helps raise prices of land in villages.”

Kesar Singh countered this.

Reminding of the warnings Khemka had put on paper, he said: “This consolidation shall confirm land ownership of private players like the Patanjali group over our commons through government fiat.

"They could get consolidated and contiguous land patches as well as access roads cut through forests and hills to the land.

"This way, when they commercialise the land, its price shall see manifold escalation.

"We have seen this happen in other villages.

"Why should the state government consolidate land at a time when we are trying to preserve and restore the ownership of Shamlat land, including the forested Aravalli, to the Panchayat?”

When the state government ordered the consolidation of land in Kot for a fourth time in 2019, Ashok Khemka, who was at this time posted as a principal secretary in the state government, told The Indian Express in an interview: “Consolidation proceedings in the eco-fragile zone of the Aravalli will not increase agricultural productivity but fuel the greed of land sharks.

"An inquiry into land purchases will unravel the truth.”

He was transferred again. The government called it a routine transfer exercise.

Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava and Nitin Sethi
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