In 2001, at a time when Congress-NCP barons controlled a majority of the sugar industry, a few BJP leaders, led by recently ousted minister Eknath Khadse, came together to set up a private factory in Jalgaon district of north Maharashtra, Tapi Purna Sugar and Allied Products.
The BJP leaders acquired around 31 hectares of land for the factory from farmers, after allegedly promising them jobs. But the plant, which was to also produce ethanol (an alcohol-based fuel which is produced from sugarcane), never took off.
It is this deal that has now landed Maharashtra’s water resources minister Girish Mahajan, who is close to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, in hot water, a week after Khadse had to resign over allegations of graft and conflict of interest.
Mahajan was a shareholder in the company, along with Khadse, BJP MLC Gurumukh Jagvani, BJP MLA Haribhau Jawale and a few others.
Of the total land acquired, 13.04 hectares was in the name of the company, while 16.39 hectares was in the name of Khadse’s kin, including his daughter-in-law and BJP MP Raksha Khadse and 1.99 hectares was brought in Mahajan’s name.
However, none of Mahajan’s election affidavits -- 2004, 2009, 2014 – mention the land, even though the property card of the plot in Manpur village, Bhusawal taluka is in his name. Under the Election Commission of India norms, failure to disclose assets can lead to disqualification of membership to the state Assembly.
“The total area acquired was nearly 80 acres, why is there so much brouhaha over my 5 acres. I had just forgotten about this deal because I thought the land was in the sugar factory’s name. It is not land grab by any stretch. I have never even visited this price of barren land,” said Mahajan.
He added that he would move the Election Commission on the issue.
The other serious allegation levelled by activist Anjali Damania and the Congress Party is that in Mahajan’s case, the land acquired fell in the category of ‘mahar vatan’, which refers to a land granted by the government to scheduled class tillers and cannot be transferred without getting an approval from the state authorities, and after which, too, the first sale offer will have to be made to the original owner.
Documents show the land, which is now owned by Mahajan, was in the name of Govind Tayade, Supudu Tayade, Rajaram Sukha Mahar, Bajirao Sukha Mahar and Bhaskar Sukha Mahar. At the time, the land was purchased for just Rs1.11 lakh.
“Political clout was used to acquire this land. The directors of the company issued a government kind of notice, saying the land required will be acquired as a right. The notice listed all lands they wished to acquire. Which private company can get away with this? Also, under which law was the land reserved for scheduled castes transferred to the minister,” Damania asked.
Mahajan, on his part, denied this, claiming the land title to the property was clean and it did not belong to the scheduled caste.
The Congress has now threatened to move court against him. Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said Mahajan’s actions were tantamount to grabbing land. “The land was meant for the mahar community. The promoters promised the community jobs in the factory, which was never constructed. The government must take action against Mahajan immediately,” Sawant said.
The farmers, who sold the land, are now demanding it be returned. Mahajan told HT he would be willing to give it back to the farmers. “I was just a legislator when the factory was floated. I signed the papers I was asked to. I have no interest in the land,” he said.