The Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust was formed in February 2020 to supervise the construction of the Ram Temple following the Supreme Court verdict in the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid property dispute in November 2019. At a press conference organised on 13 June 2021, leaders of Samajwadi party and Aam Aadmi Party accused the Ram Mandir Trust of corruption and money laundering over the purchase of 1.2 hectares of land in Bagh Bijaisi village. AAP leader Sanjay Singh claimed that the price of the land changed drastically from Rs. 2 Crores to Rs 18.5 crores in a matter of minutes. The Opposition parties called for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to probe the matter.
Here are 5 things you should know about the recent developments in the land deal controversy that erupted in Uttar Pradesh.
1. In addition to the controversy around the land in Bagh Bijaisi village, in a second controversy pertaining to the land Number 135 in Kot Ramchandra that was bought by Deep Narayan, nephew of Ayodhya’s Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay, Ayodhya’s district magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha initiated an internal inquiry to dig out facts about the ownership of the land, reported Newslaundry. Jha accessed documents given by the officials of the land records department in the district. The records suggested that the land was owned by the government and Mahant Vishwanath Prasadacharya had the tenancy of the land. According to the document, the tenant does not have the right to sell the alleged land. The late Vishwanath Prasadacharya was the guru of Devendra Prasadacharya, who sold the land to Narayan on February 20, 2021.
2. The alleged land purchase in Kot Ramachandra follows the same pattern of the deal at Bagh Bijaisi. On February 20, 2021, Narayan bought a land of 890 square meters in Kot Ramchandra from Mahant Devendra Prasadacharya for Rs 20 Lakhs. According to the report, on May 11, 2021, Narayan sold the property to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust for 2.5 crores. He also allegedly sold another plot in Kot Ramchandra to the Ram Mandir trust for 1 crore.
3. According to the report by Newslaundry, Narayan’s purchase of the land on 20 February, named Ved Narayan Pandey and Pawan Tiwari as witnesses. On May 11, Anil Mishra, the trustee of Ram Janmabhoomi, was listed as a legal witness for the transaction. Reportedly, the circle rate, the minimum amount of sale decided by local authorities of the plot, remained 35.6 lakh. Similarly, the circle rate for the plot in Bagh Bijaisi was 5.8 crore. The similarity between both the land deals lies in the fact that the lands were sold to Ravi Mohan Tiwari (who sold the land in Bagh Bijaisi to the trust) and Deep Narayan at a price below the market rate, which in turn were allegedly sold by them at an inflated rate to Ram Janmbhoomi Trust. The trust has not responded yet to the allegations made against them.
4. On 20 June, 2021, the Uttar Pradesh police registered a case against a journalist and two others from Bijnor who allegedly tried to ‘tarnish’ the image of Champat Rai, the General Secretary of the Ram Mandir trust over a Facebook post. The police have invoked 15 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and three sections of the Information Technology (IT) Act against journalist Vineet Narain, NRI Alka Lahoti and Rajnish. The FIR was filed on a complaint by Sanjay Bansal, brother of the General Secretary of the Ram Temple Trust, Champat Rai. Meanwhile, the Bijnor police chief has allegedly given Champat Rai and his brothers a ‘clean chit’ based on what he calls a prime facie inquiry into the land allegations. In the Facebook post, Narain had accused Rai of facilitating land grab by his brothers in their hometown in Bijnor. The post said that Rai with the help of his brothers grabbed 20,000 square meters of land in a cow shelter owned by NRI Alka Lahoti. The post claimed that since 2018, Lahoti had been trying to evict them. She had tried to appeal to Yogi Adityanath to look into the matter. After the post went viral, Bansal allegedly contacted the journalist to clear the facts. However, according to Bansal, a person named Rajnish received the call, misbehaved and threatened to kill him.
5. Several parties, including AAP, Samajwadi Party and Congress have ordered a probe in the matter. Saints in Ayodhya are also demanding a CBI probe into the fraud allegations against the Ram Janmbhoomi Trust. PM Modi is also expected to meet the trust officials on June 25, amid the recent controversy over land deals. He is also expected to take an update on the progress of the construction work.