THE ASSISTANT Record Officer (ARO) court in Ayodhya has declared a government order transferring nearly 21 bigha (52,000 square metres) of Dalit land to Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT) on August 22, 1996, void after finding the transfer to be “illegal”. The court has now vested the land, free from all encumbrances, in the state government.
It, however, did not recommend any action against the trust since there was no forgery involved.
The ARO court decision came five days after the December 22, 2021, investigation by The Indian Express revealed that local MLAs, close relatives of bureaucrats, and kin of revenue officials, bought land in Ayodhya hoping to cash in on the momentum in the real estate market after the Supreme Court verdict (of November 9, 2019) cleared the construction of the Ram temple in the district.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had ordered an inquiry into the land deals on December 22, 2021, the day The Indian Express published the report. An inquiry report has since been submitted.
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In the flurry of these land deals, one set of transactions had raised questions of propriety and conflict of interest. Some buyers were closely related to a couple of officials involved in probing the seller – Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust – for alleged irregularities in land transfer from Dalit residents.
To get over the land laws which barred acquisition of agriculture land belonging to Dalit persons by a non-Dalit, MRVT used a Dalit person named Ronghai employed with the trust as a conduit to buy land parcels in Barhata Manjha village from about a dozen Dalit villagers in 1992.
When contacted, Bhan Singh, Assistant Record Officer, told The Indian Express, “I have cancelled the August 1996 order of survey-naib tehsildar as it was illegal. I have forwarded it to the SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) for further action. I am also recommending action against the then survey-naib-tehsildar (Krishna Kumar Singh, now retired).”
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Bhan Singh, however, said, there was no action required against anyone else. “Since I did not find any forgery in the matter, no action is being recommended against MRVT and others,” he said.
The ARO order of December 27, 2021, recommends action under Sections 166/167 of Zamindari Abolition Act, 1950. While Section 166 will serve to make the transfer of land to MRVT void, Section 167 effectively vests the said land, free from all encumbrances, in the state government. When contacted, Prashant Kumar, SDM (Ayodhya), declined to comment.
The alleged illegality of land transfer had come to the notice of the district administration in September 2019, when MRVT started selling parcels of the Dalit land. One of the Dalit who had sold land to MRVT had then complained to the Uttar Pradesh Board of Revenue that his land had been “illegally transferred”. On his complaint, a committee comprising Additional Commissioner Shiv Pujan and then Additional District Magistrate Gorelal Shukla was set up to probe the transfer.
Records show that on October 1, 2020, the then District Magistrate, Anuj Kumar Jha, approved this committee’s report recommending action against MRVT and certain government officials for “illegally transferring land (of a Scheduled Caste person) through an unregistered donation deed”.
This was approved by Ayodhya Divisional Commissioner MP Agrawal on March 18, 2021, and a case was finally filed on August 6, 2021, in the ARO court for “correction” of the August 22, 1996, order and to “return the land in question to the state government”.