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

Last updated on: June 21, 2019 13:10 IST

Restricted by state government orders, the ownership of such land could not be formally registered, so the advances made continued to be reflected in the accounts as ‘advances against land’.
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava & Nitin Sethi report.

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

The first part showed how Herbo Ved Gram, a company associated with Patanjali group, with Acharya Balkrishna as its majority owner, purchased forested hilly common lands in Kot village.

It did so through a Faridabad-based real-estate agent, Pravin Kumar Sharma.

 

Sharma, along with three other associated dealers, controls more than 400 acres of forested hill common land in Kot village.

The land was taken over through power of attorney (PoA) agreements signed with other disputed owners of land.

These agreements were signed mostly between 2014 and 2016.

This was a time when purchase, registration and mutation of land records to reflect sale was not permitted without the approval of the panchayat and state officials.

This was done to ensure village commons did not get privatised.

The Panchayat had been fighting a legal case to get back the land.

The PoA route bypassed the need for recording the change of ownership by keeping the deals discreet.

But, Herbo Ved Gram is not the only Patanjali group company that holds hilly common lands in Kot, Business Standard discovered.

A pattern emerged.

Sharma and his associates in Faridabad have picked up many land parcels in Kot for the Patanjali group’s associated companies.

In many of these Acharya Balkrishna now owns the majority stake.

The companies have had little other operations - they have zero or little revenue from operations.

These companies have given advances either directly or through Pravin or other entities to pick up the Shamlat and gair mumkin pahad land in the village.

Restricted by state government orders, the ownership of such land could not be formally registered, so the advances made continued to be reflected in the accounts as ‘advances against land’.

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  Ramdev.

None of them responded, despite repeated reminders. Haryana state officials also did not respond to specific queries about the groups’ acquisitions.

In one of the purchase agreements, a disputed owner of hilly commons in Kot mentions that she has decided to sell her property to another Patanjali group company called Verve Corporation and is consequently handing over her rights to Sharma.

Verve, too, was owned by the Patanjali Ayurved until 2016-17. Next financial year, Acharya Balkrishna took over the control of Verve.

Verve has two directors. One is the land-dealer Pravin Kumar Sharma’s sister Saroj Sharma and the other is his brother-in-law, Kishan Vir Sharma.

Kishan Vir Sharma is more deeply involved with the Patanjali group we found upon digging his corporate records.

He is also on the board of directors at Sanskar TV, and managing director of the listed Aastha Broad Casting Network - both form the backbone of Ramdev’s television business.

Companies in which Pravin Kumar Sharma’s brother-in-law Kishan Vir holds directorship.

These include companies that form the backbone of  Ramdev’s television business.

Reviewing Verve Corporation’s records showed, with zero revenue from operations, the company had provided several unsecured advances against land picked up in Kot village through PoA agreements.

These advances were given for 18 land purchases from different people in Kot, according to company filings.

Company records also revealed that Pravin Kumar Sharma had received an unsecured interest-free advance of Rs 3.15 crore from Verve Corporation.

But when Business Standard met Pravin Kumar Sharma at his office, located above a Patanjali shop he runs in Faridabad, he denied any close land-dealings with the Patanjali group.

“I deal with whoever wants to buy land.

"I might have done some deals with them, too, perhaps. I don’t remember.

"Patanjali likely has some small land holdings in the plains of Kot. I do not know more about it.

"Only Patanjali can tell you more. You should ask it.”

Pravin shares his office with Kishan Vir.

On his Facebook profile and WhatsApp he shows off his photographs with Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna.

His brother-in-law Kishan Vir displays his photographs with Baba Ramdev and top BJP leaders on his Facebook profile.

Yet, at no point during the meeting with us did Pravin acknowledge that he had taken over the rights of 104 people over land in Kot village through power of attorney documents, or that he, along with other colleagues, claimed control of more than 300 land parcels in Kot.

He feigned ignorance to the operations of the Patanjali group and its subsidiaries in Kot village.

With him sat Mahesh Sharma, one of the other three who had gone to court claiming control over vast tracts of hilly commons in Kot.

Mahesh Sharma also feigned ignorance. Yet, documents that we reviewed showed Mahesh, Pravin and the two others were linked to one another and had collectively taken control of more than 400 acres of village land.

Other companies in which Kishan Vir Sharma has interests, documents showed, had also been given advances from Verve Corporation.

Some of these firms are into real-estate business in Faridabad.

After the meeting, Business Standard sent to Pravin Sharma and Kishan Vir Sharma specific detailed queries citing documents contradicting Pravin’s stance distancing the two from Patanjali group. Neither responded.

One company that Pravin Kumar Sharma did not mention he was representing in the Power of Attorney agreements was Herbo Yog Gram.

The company was originally incorporated as Patanjali Communication.

Acharya Balkrishna owns 92 per cent shares in the company, which again carried out no operations in 2017-18.

This company also bought land in Kot through PoAs, and Pravin Kumar Sharma got advances from the firm for ‘stamps’ worth Rs 36.18 lakh.

Yet another Patanjali company that Business Standard was able to trace down was Omgreen Agro.

In this company, registered in Navi Mumbai, Acharya Balkrishna owns 97 per cent shares. In 2017-18, it had zero earnings from operations but tangible assets included unregistered land in Kot adding up to 114 bighas and 4 biswa taken through the PoA route from 11 people by paying Rs 11.61 crore.

The company gave an unsecured loan of Rs 7.5 lakh to purchase hilly commons in Kot to a partnership firm, Vedanta Enterprises, in which Pravin Kumar Sharma is a partner.

Another Patanjali group company with land in Kot purchased through Pravin Kumar Sharma, Jadibuti Krishi, was found to be doing organic farming in the village, even as the company records showed it earned no revenue from operations.

Business Standard visited the gated, walled and fenced-off well-tended plantation and farm located in one of the hilly valleys tucked between Aravalli ridges.

The caretaker of the property, Jitender Singh, said the operations belonged to Jadibuti Krishi.

“We have been selling organic farm produce from this farm for 2-3 years,” he said.

“It is Baba Ramdev’s company. Sometimes Acharya Balkrishna himself comes here to supervise.

"We grow nothing but organic. We levelled the lands to start farming. That can be done atop hills, too.”

His assistant chipped in: “Along the route up to this farm you would have noticed amla tree plantations? Those are also ours.”

A priest at one of the two temples in the village later said: “They own a lot of land here. They buy whatever they find. I don’t know for what purpose.”

Several others in the land, including the husband of the village Panchayat head, Kesar, who is leading the case to recover the land back to the community, confirmed this.

“They have got Shamlat and gair mumkin pahad land through PoA agreements from others who earlier bought it illegally.

"We are fighting to get the land back but the state is helping them with the latest orders to consolidate landholdings in the commons. This is illegal,” he said.

Buying disputed land at throwaway prices in the hope of holding on till disputes are settled in one’s favour is legitimate business, even if risky.

This is how land is accumulated by real estate developers cutting through a haze of land records and laws.

Gurugram and Faridabad are replete with such stories.

The reward is high if the land titles get settled by state authorities or courts in favour of the company.

The Patanjali group’s foray into real estate in Haryana - along similar lines - is, therefore, neither novel nor illegal.

However, these are not village agricultural land. Many of the land parcels the group companies and their associates were found to own in Kot are hilly commons in the Aravalli range.

And, the Patanjali group could soon see their risky investment in Kot pay off.

The concluding part of the series shows how the Haryana government’s recent moves could affirm private ownership in the Kot hilly common land and open these patches for privatised commercial development of Aravalli hills in the village.

Photograph: Courtesy, Business Standard

Concluding part: How Haryana govt helped Patanjali to buy lands illegally

Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava & Nitin Sethi
Source: source
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