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How Patanjali 'broke' laws to acquire land in Aravalli hills

Last updated on: June 19, 2019 13:10 IST

The land acquisition, the consolidation process in Kot and a slew of other decisions by the Haryana government to open the hills to privatisation and commercial activity run contrary to court orders, environmentalists’ demand, and at times the Union government’s measures to protect the Aravalli hills, say Nitin Sethi & Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava.

First of a three-part series on Patanjali’s land deals focuses on how Baba Ramdev's firms and associates have bypassed restrictions to purchase a large tract of forested, hilly common land in kot, a village in Faridabad.

Ramdev

IMAGE: Patanjali group founder yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Photograph: PTI Photo

The Patanjali group, through companies controlled by Acharya Balkrishna, and some of their closely associated land dealers, has picked up more than 400 acres of forested common lands in the Aravalli hills of Faridabad, Haryana.

It has done so, mostly over 2014-16, by circumventing restrictions put in place on sale of such common lands in Kot village, under more than 300 power-of-attorney agreements.

 

Such agreements for purchase of land are banned in Delhi.

The Patanjali group’s land in the village could now see a sudden appreciation in value, with the Haryana government kick-starting a legal process in Kot village in February 2019.

Called consolidation of land holdings, the process will affirm the Patanjali group’s ownership of the land, replaces its plots dispersed across the village with contiguous land parcels, and allows it to carry out both development activity and agriculture, which are currently banned in the hilly commons.

Business Standard investigated the land deals and how the Patanjali group and its associates went about discreetly acquiring property - bypassing an order of the Supreme Court and those of several senior Haryana officials to prevent alienation of common lands from the village Panchayat.

These officials had over years, instead, demanded investigations into illegal purchase of common lands by private entities in Kot and other villages through which the Aravalli range runs in Faridabad.

The land acquisition, the consolidation process in Kot and a slew of other decisions by the Haryana government to open the hills to privatisation and commercial activity run contrary to court orders, environmentalists’ demand, and at times the Union government’s measures to protect the Aravalli hills.

Business Standard reviewed more than 100 land agreements signed by the Patanjali group and its associates and court filings, besides Union and central government documents.

It scrutinised more than a dozen Patanjali companies’ regulatory filings with the Registrar of Companies for the past three years.

And, it also spoke to the associated land dealers in Faridabad, several officials in the state’s departments concerned, and villagers in Kot.

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

None of them responded, despite repeated reminders.

Haryana state officials did not respond to specific queries about the Patanjali group’s acquisitions but justified their orders for consolidation of landholdings in Kot.

Was it just a coincidence that a Faridabad-based real estate dealer, Pravin Kumar Sharma, co-holding more than 400 acres of forested, hilly common land in Kot village, was found to also have purchased some land on behalf of a particular Patanjali group company? No.

This was just first of a vast web of transactions that unravelled, linking land dealers, Patanjali group companies and its associates to land purchases in Kot village’s hilly commons.

Enter Patanjali

Just off the state highway connecting Gurugram and Faridabad, Kot is a peri-urban village amid the Aravalli hills.

Home to about 250 families, the village is at the cusp of being opened to real-estate development.

Part of Haryana’s Draft Mangar Development Plan for 2031, a proposed eight-lane road to connect Faridabad and Gurugram with South Delhi promises to place Kot at an easy distance from existing urban hubs.

About 80 per cent of the village land falls in the hilly terrain classified as Gair Mumkin Pahad, or hills where cultivation and development are not permitted in Haryana.

These hilly tracts are classified as Shamlat land or commons held collectively by villagers.

A state law, as well as a 2011 Supreme Court judgment, had said such land should be vested only with the panchayat.

In 2011, advised by the state, the panchayat had filed a case to recover all its Shamlat land back from those who had purchased illegally.

The case dragged on until four individuals intervened in the case in 2018, claiming they collectively represented more than 321 of the disputed owners of village commons.

These 321 disputed owners had handed over rights to over 400 acres of properties through power of attorney agreements.

One of the four, Pravin Kumar Sharma, also submitted copies of 104 of these power of attorney (PoA) agreements in court as proof.

Business Standard reviewed all these PoA agreements. And the connections began to unravel.

In several PoA agreements, the disputed owners of the hilly common lands of Kot recorded they had handed over the rights in Kot village to Pravin Kumar Sharma.

But in all of these agreements, Pravin was not dealing on his own.

Several agreements noted that Pravin was acting as the authorised representative of a company called Herbo Ved Gram Private Limited.

Who owns and controls Herbo Ved Gram Private Limited, the company on whose behalf Pravin had cut land-deals in Kot village?

Regulatory filings show, until financial year 2016-17, Patanjali Ayurved Limited owned 100 per cent shares of this company.

In 2017-18, the ownership of 99 per cent of these shares was transferred to Acharya Balkrishna, Baba Ramdev’s associate and the business leader for the Patanjali empire.

A deeper scrutiny of the Herbo Ved Gram Private Limited’s regulatory filings also showed that the company had bought over many land plots in Kot village through PoA agreements, by paying several crores of rupees.

The documents also showed that the company had made unsecured interest-free advances to the real-estate agent Pravin Kumar Sharma to buy lands.

The company’s regulatory filings for 2016-17 even listed names of the landowners in Kot whom it had paid advances against their land.

These names match with several landowners with whom Pravin had signed PoA agreements on behalf of the company.

Business Standard sent Pravin Sharma specific detailed queries citing the documents. He did not respond.

The company’s intended business is to set up yoga and health centres and develop herbal and organic farming.

In 2017-18, the company had earned only Rs 60,000 as revenue from operations but had given advances of Rs 16.77 crore by the end of the financial year.

This included advances given for land worth Rs 15.58 crore.

Was it just a coincidence that a Faridabad-based real estate dealer, Pravin Kumar Sharma, co-holding more than 400 acres of forested, hilly common land in Kot village, was found to also have purchased some land on behalf of a particular Patanjali group company? No.

This was just first of a vast web of transactions that unravelled as Business Standard investigated further, linking land dealers, Patanjali group companies and its associates to land purchases in Kot village’s hilly commons.

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

Nitin Sethi & Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
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