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    Posted on 19 March 2012
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    BLACK MONEY

    Baba Ramdev’s epic swindle

    Baba Ramdev is in news again after reports of irregularities in deals worth Rs 64 crore made by his trusts came to light. However, this is but a small part of the scams that his trusts have been involved in. The self-styled crusader against corruption is sitting atop an empire built on corrupt deals, find out Manoj Rawat and Mahipal Kunwar

    Photos: Shailendra Pandey

    It was 2004. Ramdev was the emerging Yoga guru and his presence was being felt throughout the country. Every major TV network in the country had Ramdev exhorting lakhs of his followers to follow the path of Yoga. His Yoga camps, held across the country were jam packed and almost every one attending the camps was buying Ayurvedic medicines from his Divya Pharmacy.

    Baba Ramdev

    However, in the same financial year, Divya Pharmacy showed a sale of only Rs 6, 73, 000 and paid a sales tax of Rs 53000 only. This when there was a regular serpentine queue at the Patanjali yoga peeth and there was a huge demand for his Ayurdic medicines all over the country. Other than this, medicines were also being sent through Value Payable Post.

    Seeing the popularity of Ramdev and the ever increasing demand of his medicines, the Sales Tax Office (STO) of Uttarakhand got suspicious about the sales of his medicines being so less. STO called for information from all the post offices of Uttarakhand. The information received from the Post Office confirmed their suspicion. It was told that Divya Pharmacy, in the financial year 2004-05, had sent 2509.256 kg medicines through 3353 parcels. Apart from these parcels, VPP parcels worth Rs 13,13000 was also sent. In this financial year only, Divya Pharmacy had received money order worth Rs 17, 50, 000.

    Based on this information, the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the STO raided Divya Pharmacy. The then Deputy Commissioner, Jagdish Rana, who headed the team, tells us, “Till then, even I used to respect Ramdev ji, for his good work. But as a tax collector, it was a clear case of sales tax evasion.” Rana said that the case of sales tax evasion was worth Rs 5 crore.

    Now the question which arises is that how can the same Ramdev, who is accusing the government of protecting black money, be involved in black money himself? The investigation done by Tehelka shows, that the movement created by Ramdev is a classic case of pot calling the kettle black.

    Rana tells us that before conducting raids on Divya Pharmacy, he did a lot of homework. “Approximately Rs 5 crore worth of State and Central sales tax was swindled.” Another member of the team reveals that apart from foolproof evidence, papers gathered weighed 2000 kg as form of evidence.

    The raids on Divya Pharmacy had made the then Governer Sudershan Agarwal very upset. He asked the state department to submit a report on the raid conducted. At that time Principle Secretary (finance) Indu Kumar Pande, had termed the raid as unbiased and necessary, in their report send to the government. The then Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari had also sent a special note along with this report to the Governor, in which he repeated what the principle secretary had said. Ramdev had alleged that during the raid, the tax officer had misbehaved, which the government termed as baseless.

    Several officers of the State Tax department believe that after the raid a lot of pressure was exerted on Rana. The pressure was so much that Rana was forced to take retirement 4 years before his tenure was to come to an end. Rana at the time was considered as one of the brightest and upright officers. After this raid by the SIB, no other state or Central department could gather enough courage to raid Ramdev’s empire again. Consequently, his empire grew several times after that.

    Showing fewer sales is, however, just one way of siphoning money. Divya Pharmacy was making money by evading tax through other ways as well. Documents available with Tehelka tell us that in the same financial year, Divya Pharmacy transferred medicine stocks, worth Rs 30, 17 000 to another of Ramdev Organisation “Divya Yoga Mandir Trust”. This in itself was 5 times the amount which was shown to the sales tax department and on which tax was paid. In the Tax return filed by the pharmacy, it claimed that all this medicine was distributed to the poor and the needy, free of cost. But tax officers at that time tell Tehelka that all this medicine was being sold from Divya Yoga Mandir Trust situated in Kankhal. Bharat Pal, who lives near the trust says, “In the last 16 years, I have never seen any medicine being distributed by the Divya Yoga Trust, to the poor and needy, free of cost”

    Even today, Divya Pharmacy is transferring huge stocks of medicines to various trusts being run by Ramdev, under the garb of distributing it to the needy. What is shocking is that till date, Divya Yoga Mandir Trust and Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust have not been registered with the Sales Tax department of the Uttarakhand state. According to the rules, these unregistered trusts can’t sell anything without proper registration but surprisingly, these centres are selling medicine worth lakhs and other stuff without any check by the state administration.

    In the last few years, medicine stocks worth billions of rupees have been transferred by Divya Pharmacy to these trusts, on which sales tax has to be paid. Apart from trusts, it is difficult to investigate Ramdev’s claim that free medicines are given to poor during various camps, but people attending these camps say that no free medicines have been given to anybody. Now 285 kinds of medicines and other products are also being sent through the Internet. Uttarakhand’s Sales tax department does not know how to tax these sales. Rana, who now lives in Noida, says, “Baba Ramdev is not paying even a fraction of sales tax which he is supposed to pay.”

    In Uttarakhand, sales tax is the biggest source of revenue. Chandrashekhar Semval, Tax consultant to the state, says, “Last year we collected tax worth Rs 2940 crore through sales tax. This is 60 percent of the total revenue of the state.” This money is used to build roads, provide clean drinking water, medicines to the government hospital, government schools and lots of other beneficiary schemes. Ramdev alleges that all the politicians of this country are looting the exchequer and have nothing to do with the development of the nation. Shouldn’t he be answering the very same questions, when his firm is involved in the theft of sales tax?

    An ex member of Central Board of Direct Taxes, says, “ Tax evasion is the biggest source of black money, and this black money is invested maximum in real estate.”

    “In the last 7-8 years, trusts owned by Ramdev has purchased huge tracts of land, in Haridwar, Roorkee and adjoining districts, in SEZs, says Baba Hathyogi, spokesman of Akhara Parishad, “Apart from this Ramdev has also invested in benami transactions, and expensive residential projects.” Hathyogi also alleges that apart from Haridwar, Ramdev has bought huge tracts of land in other districts of Uttarakhand. When Tehelka decided to investigate these claims, the facts that emerged were shocking.

    Lord of the land

    After expanding the Yoga and Ayurvedic business, in 2005, Ramdev formed another trust called Patanjali Yoga peeth Trust. Ramdev at that time was an international celebrity. On 15 October, 2006, he even addressed a millennium seminar on poverty eradication at the United Nations. Now he needed more land to expand his horizon. To fulfil this, huge tracts of lands were purchased in the Shantershah village, Badehi Rajputana and Bongla which falls between Roorkee and Hardiwar, on the Delhi- Mada National Highway. These tracts of land were purchased in the name of Acharya Balakrishna, Divya Yoga Mandir Trust and Patanjali Trust. According to the revenue records, Khata no 87, 103, 120 and 150 of Shantarshah village are registered in the name of trusts owned by Ramdev. The size of this land is 23.798 hectares (360 beegah) and Patanjali-1, Patanjali-2 and Patanjali University have been constructed on this.

    Former Pradhan of Badehi Rajputan, Shakil Ahmed, tell us that Ramdev owns more than 1000 beegha of land in this area, but in the records only 360 beegha is shown as owned by Ramdev Trusts and associates. Out of this Ramdev has declared 20 hectares of land as non-agricultural land. In Uttarakhand, one cannot carry out construction on agriculture land till one declares them to be non agricultural. Tehelka minutely scrutinised the revenue records and found out that Ramdev, his relatives and Acharya Balkrishna, have invested massively in the benami land of the village. For example, the revenue record shows that Khata no229 of Shantarshah village is registered in the name of Gagan Kumar. The same Gagan Kumar also happens to be the PA of Acharya Balkrishna. He draws a meagre salary of Rs 8000 and does not file Income Tax return.

    On 15 January, 2011, Gagan bought 1.446 hectares of land in Shantarshah. The value of the land was shown as Rs 35 lakhs in the registry but people dealing in real estate say that the minimum cost of this land is Rs 5 crore. The land belonged to a schedule caste farmer and was purchased with special permission from SDM. On 14 May, 2010, Gagan bought another piece of land worth Rs 1 Crore 37 lakh in Bavli-kalanjari village of Roorkee district. Local real estate agents say that the value of this land is at least Rs 15 crore. Local journalist Ehsaan Ansari claims that Baba has bought land worth billions in the name of people like Gagan. Baba Hathyogi asks, “Can Ramdev, who is spearheading a movement against black money, answer how people like Gagan, earning a measly Rs 8000 per month, buy land worth crores?”

    After establishing his supremacy in these villages, Ramdev turned towards Aurangabad Nyaya Panchayat in Haridwar. Aurangabad and Shivdaspur (teliwala) village are situated on the border of Rajaji National park. According to the real estate regulations of Uttarakhand, any person or trust cannot buy agricultural land of more than 250 square metres. Under special circumstances, one can buy more land but for that one has to have a clearance from the state government.

    On 16 July, 2008, Patanjli Yogapeeth of Ramdev, got permission from the Uttarakhand government to buy 75 hectares of land in villages such as Aurangabad, Shivdaspur and others, to establish Panchkarm Vyavastha Medicine Production and Laboratories. According to the rules, the land has to be used specifically for the purpose for which it has been bought. On this agricultural land, Ramdev established a Yoga Gram. The charge of this luxury resort like Gram per day ranges from Rs 10,000 to 35,000.

    Ajab Singh, ex Pradhan of Aurangabad village, claims that Ramdev and his cohorts have forcefully acquired 2000 beegha land. But in the revenue records of Uttarakhand, not a single beegha of land is registered in the name of Ramdev, Acharya Balkrishna and his trusts. Subhash Jainmi, Lekhpal of the area, confirms this and says, “The reason why their name is not there is because despite the fact that the land has been sold to them, the registry still remains in the name of the farmer. The physical possession of the land, however, is in possession of the trusts owned by Ramdev. In the revenue record all the land of Aurangabad village are still agricultural land. According to the law of the land, before any kind of construction on the agriculture land is done, its usage change has to be done by the state and thereafter it is termed as non agriculture land. For this the name of the buyer has to be registered in the revenue records. Ramdev and his trusts don’t own a single inch of land in Aurangabad, but in brazen violation of every single tenet of the law, Ramdev’s trusts have constructed a new city in the name of Yoga Gram.”

    After Aurangabad, it was the turn of Teliwala village. After one and a half years of formation of Yoga Gram in Aurangabad, on 26 February, 2010, Uttarakhand government allowed Patanjali Yoga Peeth to buy another 155 hectares (2235 beegha) of land in these villages. This permission was given to establish Patanjali University. Therefore Ramdev’s Patanjali Yoga peeth was given 230 hectare(3450 beegha) agricultural land of Aurangabad and Teliwala village by the Uttarakhand government. Apart from this Ramdev has bought thousands of beegha of benami land in other people’s name. Several villagers claim that in Aurangabad and Teliwala village, Ramdev’s trust owns more than 4000 beegha of land. But if you look at the revenue record, just like Aurangabad village, Ramdev Trust does not own even an inch of land.

    One will wonder how this happened. Before answering that, we will scrutinise some more facts. In Teliwala village, 2116 (khatedars), have 9330 beegha land. The government has given 750 beegha of agricultural land on lease to 330 landless people. According to Lekhpal Jainmi, “Hundreds of poor people became homeless after selling their land to the trust.” According to the villagers, a large part of the total village land is under the possession of Patanjali Yoga Peeth. A letter from Balkrishna proves this. In a letter written on 7 September, 2007, to the District Magistrate of Haridwar, Balakrishna accepted that he has got the benami done of the 80 percent of the land, therefore chakbandi of the village should be done again. This shows that everything was pre planned and the special permission from the government was merely a formality. If we accept the claim made by Balakrishna in his letter, this means that Ramdev owns around 8000 beegha land in Teliwala village. Villagers have protested against this Chakbandi which is being done against the law. They allege that once that is done then Balakrishna will exchange his DOYAM land with the agricultural land.

    Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar

    Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar

    Photo: Rajeev K

    The third biggest portion of Ramdev’s empire in Haridwar, is near Padartha- Dhanpura Gram Sabha. Ramdev has bought land in Mustafabad, Dhanpura, Ghissupura, Rani Majra and Ferupura Maujo. These lands were bought with the special permission from the state government in the name of Patanjali Ayurveda Limited. Ramdev got the permission for medicine manufacturing and advance research in Ayurveda, but later on a food park was built here. According to villagers, Patanjali Food Park Ltd is spread over 700 beegha of land. This Rs 98 crore project gets a subsidy of Rs 50 crore from the Food Processing Ministry. In a consortium of nine companies, most of them are owned by people very close to Ramdev. In Maa Kamakhya ltd, Ramdev’s brother-in-law, Yashdev Arya, holds controlling shares where as in Yogi Pharmacy’s,the Managing Director are Sunil Kumar Chaturvedi and Sanjay Sharma, considered to be very close to Ramdev. Benevolence of a Cabinet Minister reflects clearly in the allotment given to Patanjali Food Park and Jharkhand Food Park. When Food park was inaugurated, Ramdev made a declaration in front of Cabinet ministers and other VIPs that he will buy herbs or vegetable produce worth Rs 1000 crore from Uttarakhand. But despite getting subisidies worth several crores, he did not fulfil his promise. Sudershan Kathaih, who owns an NGO, alleges that the guru has not bought even one lakh worth of herbs from Uttarakhand.

    Coming back to the way land was purchased, if we look at the financial angle of the way the land has been bought, we will find that, though the registry of the land, bought by close associate or trust of Ramdev is done at the circle rate, the actual payment is several time more. Prices of land in Haridwar increased several times, once it was declared the industrial city of Uttarakhand. Villagers allege that managers close to Ramdev also pay the touts for arranging land.

    Several cases related to stamp tax evasion for the year 2009- 10 are going on in the court of the sub divisional magistrate of Haridwar. These cases are related to the evasion of tax duty in the land purchased by Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd in the Mustafabad Maujey area of Padartha-Dhanpura village. In these cases, the court found that in order to evade tax, the land was shown to be used for agro purpose. What Ramdev forgot was that they got this land for medicinal produce and research, which comes under the industry category and not agriculture. Apart from this, Patanjali Ayurveda constructed an industrial unit here without changing the nature of the land from agriculture to non agriculture. On charges of paying less stamp duty, the SDM of Hardiwar slapped a fine of Rs 55 lakh in terms of tax and penalty. Ajab Singh, former pradhan, believes that if the government does a proper investigation in all the land purchases, the stealing of stamp tax will run into several crores.

    A close look at the order of the SDM reveals how stamp duty of more than 90 percent was stolen. Sources in the real estate market reveal that the payment done in these cases are several times more, than the assessment made by the SDM.

    Several farmers, who sold off their land to Ramdev, deposited their money in the bank and immediately came under Income Tax scanner. Now they are very scared of the tax probe. Acharya Pramod Krishna allege, “If cases of Fema are registered against poor people, their accounts are sealed and they are packed off to jail. But in the case of Ramdev, nobody is taking any action.” It was on the complaints of Acharya Pramod that cases under FEMA was lodged against Ramdev, and a CBI investigation was initiated against Balkrishna. He believes that the only reason Ramdev has launched a campaign against black money is to blackmail the Central government into not taking any action against him and his trusts. A big real estate agent says, “If Baba has paid black money of only Rs 2 lakh per beegha over the circle rate, then he has paid almost Rs 400 crore in black money for just the land in Hardiwar.”

    Last year Ramdev created a flutter by claiming that a minister of Uttarakhand had asked for a bribe of Rs 2 crore, though he never named the minister. Trivendra Singh Pawar, President of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, says, “That minister might have asked for this money in lieu of help extended to grab these lands.”

    Jack of all scams

    In Telivala village, there is a huge residential complex built on over 20 beeghas of land. The walls of this residential complex are adorned with large framed photographs of Ramdev. In that residential complex, there are two power connections in the name of Balkrishna and Divya Yoga Mandir, Kankhal. Consumer number of one of the connection is 711205. A connection of 35 horse power is taken in the name of tube well.

    Patanjali Food & Herbal Park Ltd

    Patanjali Food & Herbal Park Ltd

    Photo: Virendra Negi

    When MC Gupta, Deputy General Manager of Uttarakhand Power Corporation, was asked about the process to get an electricity connection for boring, without mentioning Ramdev, he tells us that for any farmer to do boring for agricultural purposes he has to produce the ownership papers of this land. Balkrishna has no land registered in his name in Telivala village. When we asked him how he managed to get the connection, Gupta said that he will be able to comment on it only after investigating the case. He assures us that if any irregularities come to his notice, he will take action.

    What is shocking is that these KOLHUS are run by electricity. But for this, Ramdev has not taken any industrial connection. Only 80 paise per unit is being paid for the connection taken by Balkrishna for agricultural purposes, whereas the industrial charges of the electricity is Rs 4 and 25 paisey per unit. As a result, the government is losing thousands of rupees per day.

    Neo landlords

    Eighty-year-old Mehbooban lives in Telivala village in Hardiwar with a widowed daughter-in- law and family of two sons. With her husband and youngest son dead, every day is a new struggle for Mehbooban. Already burdened by several hardships, a new calamity struck Mehbooban when through an order of the SDM, the 3.3 beegha land given to her on lease was cancelled. Several years ago, Gram Prabhandan Samiti had given land to her husband which passed on to her after his death.

    On 27 November, 2007, the SDM of Telivala cancelled lease of 27 others along with Mebooban and her daughter-in-law, Rukhsana. The reason for cancellation was given that these families don’t grow any crop on it and they have failed to pay the tax on the land. The total land given on lease to these 29 families was 100 beegha. People from the same village had complained against these families and it looked as if a genuine complaint had been filed. The complaint read that, ‘these lease owners own tractors and jeeps. Other than this they don’t till their lands, therefore the lease should be cancelled and given to other backward caste people who are poor.” But it was not what it looked like in the first place. According to the information available with Tehelka, people who have complained against these 29 people are actually property dealers who are working on behalf of trusts owned by Ramdev.

    On the third day of the filing of the complaint to the SDM, Lekhpal of the area toured the whole 100 beegha land and after investigating, filed a report that no farming is being done on these lands and no tax has been paid on it. The annual tax on the lease land was Rs 9 per year. On the second day of getting the report, the Tehsildar of Haridwar found the report of Lekhpal to be true and sent a memo to the SDM to cancel the lease of these 29 families. Within 9 days of filing the complaint, leases of 29 people were cancelled. When we perused the order of the SDM, we were in for a surprise. The tax which was due on every single person was only Rs 10. Mehbooban says, “What is the value of Rs 10? Even the poorest person in the world can pay Rs 10.”

    Usually whenever a complaint of this nature is filed, the investigation takes months to complete. After on the spot inspection, and two fold investigation, authorities also hear the objection of the lease owners. After this, case goes to the court of SDM. Usually it takes years before a decision is given. But in this case, the speed with which it was disposed of stunned everybody. Retired IAS officer, Chandra Singh says, “Before giving out a report, a meeting of Gram Sabha is held, so that we can verify the genuineness of the complaints. Even the bureaucrat might feel the pain of making these people homeless again, but either there is lure of the cash or pressure from the senior officers that make them do it.”

    An SDM who was posted for 3 years in Haridwar says that during his tenure not a single case of cancelling a lease because the tax has not been paid came before him. Now the tax is so low that anybody in the world can pay it.

    Baba Ramdev

    Photo: Trilochan SK

    Then why were these 29 leases cancelled with such speed? When we went to Teliwala village to find the cause, we found that the then SDM did this only to benefit Ramdev. Fifteen days after these leases were cancelled, on 12 February,2008, Balkrishna wrote a letter to the District Magistrate. In that letter he asked for 325 hectares ( 4875 beegha) of land in Aurangabad and Teliwala area for Patanjali University and Patanjali Trust. Of the land which Balakrishna asked for included those 100 beegha of land which had become government land after the lease of 29 people were cancelled. In the proposal, Balkrishna provided the landscape in great detail. The land which he was asking for included the land of the people whose leases were cancelled.

    Dates on the government records reveal that the haste at which the lease was cancelled, the same was displayed when the land was allotted to Ramdev. Clearance to the allotment of the land was immediately given by Lekhpal and Tehsildar, whereas in normal process, all the land is surveyed and the objection of the Gram Pradhan is solved before giving a clearance. Vijaypal Saini of Telivala says that all this was happening only on paper so that no one would come to know of it. Within one month of getting the letter from Balkrishna, the then District Magistrate of Haridwar, Anand Vardhan, on 5 March, 2008, wrote a letter to the Uttarakhand government asking for the allotment of land to Patanjali Yogapeeth. The DM had asked the government to give Patanjali Yogapeeth 140 hectares land, which was half of what Balakrishna had asked for.

    What is most surprising is that Balakrishna, in his letter, had asked the land for education and health related projects whereas the District Magistarate in his letter had written that Patanjali Yoga Peeth should be given land for research related to agriculture. The letter of the DM contained that 100 beegha, which was acquired after cancelling the lease of 29 people.

    Meanwhile the villagers got a hint of how Ramdev was acquiring their land. There were big protests against the decision of the government but to no avail. Meer Alam of Teliwala village says, “The way Ramdev tells the whole world on TV about the benefit of Yoga, the same way officials were telling the villagers that if we give our land to the Baba, they will benefit a great deal.” When they realised that the government was hell bent on giving land to Ramdev, Saini filed a public interest litigation against the decision. The court stayed the order of giving land to the trust. Saini fears that the government, under the influence of Ramdev, will give all the land of these two villages to the trust.

    However, even the stay could not benefit Mehbooban, Rukhsana, and other widows like Shakeela. Out of those 29 people, half of them filed revision petition in the court of Commissioner and are able to retain their lands but for the rest of them neither have understanding of the law, nor the ability to fight it out in the court with the result that their lands have been usurped by Ramdev’s associates.

    Meer Alam alleges that apart from these widows, lands of several other farmers have also been forcibly acquired by Ramdev. Most of these lands which have been forcefully acquired are either located in the middle of thousand of beeghas owned by him or next to his land. Vijay Saini alleges that Ramdev in order to create an empire by buying every inch of land in these two villages. To realise this dream, he has created a nexus of land mafias, revenue officials and political patronage.

    Even land belonging to the people of backward caste of Shantarshah Nagar, Bahedi Rajputana, and Bongla were bought and people were rendered homeless. Tehelka investigated one of the several land purchased by Ramdev, account no 120, and found that Ramdev also exploited the same lacunas in laws which are usually exploited by land mafias.

    As if usurping land wasn’t enough, Acharya Balkrishna has even written a letter to the authorities asking them to allot even the river to them. Where thousands of families, dependant on this river will go, nobody knows nor do they care. Recently, Ramdev has written a letter to the Uttarakhand government asking for permission to acquire 125 hectares (1875 beegha) of land in Teliwala, Hazara grant, Anyagi belonging to the Haridwar district. In reality, Ramdev has already bought these lands and wants to legitimise the conversion.

    Shakeela does not own a TV set. If she did, after hearing Ramdev’s sermon on black money and the moving portrayal on how the poor live in India, she could have consoled herself that her land, which was usurped by Ramdev, is being used in the fight against corruption and black money.


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    Posted on 19 March 2012
 
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