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The Patanjali group of Baba Ramdev, through companies controlled by his business associate, Acharya Balkrishna, and some of their closely-associated land dealers, acquired more than 400 acres of forested common lands in the Aravalli hills in Kot, just off the state highway connecting Gurugram and Faridabad, according to a Business Standard report of 6 June.

Home to about 250 families, about 80 per cent of the village land falls in the hilly terrain classified as Shamlat land or commons held collectively by villagers. In 2011, the Supreme Court had directed that all common land in the hills should be returned to panchayats and any sale of such land was termed illegal.

The panchayat in 2011 filed a case to recover all its Shamlat land back from those who had purchased it 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.

According to the BS report, these four people presented power of attorneys for about 400 acres of land. One Mr. Praveen Kumar, who was acting as the authorized representative of a company called Herbo Ved Gram Pvt. Ltd., submitted copies of 104 power of attorneys as proof in the court. The three other companies used to acquire these lands were Omgreen Agro Private Limited, Vedanta Enterprises and Jadibuti Krishi Private Limited.

According to the report, these transactions for acquisition of large-scale forest land took place between 2014 and 2016. During this period, purchase, registration and mutation of land records to reflect sale were not permitted without the approval of the Panchayat and state officials. Thus these companies used the Power of Attorney route to bypass the need for recording the change of ownership by keeping the deals discreet.

As per statutory regulatory filings until 2016-17, Patanjali Ayurved Limited owned 100% shares of Herbo Ved Gram Private Limited. In the following financial year, 2017-18, the ownership of 99% of these shares were transferred to Acharya Balkrishna.

To buy these lands Mr. Sharma received an unsecured interest-free advance of Rs. 3.15 crore from another company called, Verve Corporation. The two directors of Verve corporation were Mrs Saroj Sharma, sister of Praveen Sharma, and her husband, Mr. K V Sharma. Not surprisingly, Verve, too, was owned by the Patanjali Ayurved Limited until 2016-17 and was transferred to Acharya Balkrishna in 2017-18.

In February this year, in an attempt to legalise these deals, the Haryana Assembly amended the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1990, opening up thousands of acres in the Aravalli and Shivalik mountain ranges for real estate development and mining which would be a major threat to environment and ecology of Delhi NCR. The amended law excludes tracts of land included in the final development plans or town improvement plans from the ambit of the PLPA. The amendment was to be applicable with retrospective as well as prospective effect. In March, the Supreme Court ordered the Haryana government to not implement the amendments it made to the Act.

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