Temple trust refutes land scam charge, rejects probe demand
Land for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was purchased at rates lower than current market prices, the trust overseeing the temple’s construction said on Monday, refuting allegations of corruption and dismissing demands of probe even as a political storm brewing due to the allegations intensified.
Champat Rai, general secretary of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, said the 1.2 hectare (about 12,000 square metres) land at Bagh Vijeshwar in Ayodhya was purchased at ₹1,423 per sq feet – lower than market rates.
He said that agreements between the land’s original owner, Kusum Pathak, and the sellers, Sultan Ansari and Ravi Mohan Tewari, were made in 2011, 2017 and 2019 – before the Supreme Court’s verdict on Ram temple.
“I appeal to all Ram devotees to not pay attention to false campaigns,” he said.
His comments came in response to allegations by former Samajwadi Party MLA from Ayodhya, Tej Narayan Pandey, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh.
On Sunday, Pandey and Singh alleged that on March 18 this year, Pathak sold her land for ₹2 crore to Ansari and Tewari, who then sold the land to the trust for ₹18.5 crore 10 minutes later. They also said that the circle rate (price per unit of land fixed by government ) was ₹5.79 crore. To be sure, land agreements are often struck at prices far above the circle rate.
The charges kicked up a political row with Opposition parties demanding a judicial probe.
Rai, however dismissed all allegations of financial irregularities. He said the original owner, Pathak, and the present sellers (Ansari and Tewari) entered into agreements in 2011, 2017 and 2019. When the trust spotted the land, it contacted the people concerned (Ansari-Tewari).
“After reaching agreement over price, the people concerned (Ansari- Tewari) decided to execute the registry with the original owner (Pathak). Without this registry, they (Ansari-Tewari) couldn’t sell the land to the trust,” Rai said in a statement.
“The moment the registry was executed (in favour of Ansari-Tewari), we decided to purchase the land (from Ansari-Tewari) without any delay,” he said. The land was purchased at the rate of ₹1,423 per sq feet, which was far lower than the prevailing market price, Rai said.
The land was officially registered only on March 18 2021, the trust said, adding that two transactions occurred on March 18: from Pathak to Ansari-Tewari, and Ansari-Tewari to the trust.
The 15-member trust was created by the government after the Supreme Court’s landmark November 2019 verdict cleared the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. The construction began in March 2020 and the foundation was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2020.
In its statement on Sunday, the trust said Ansari and Tewari signed a sale agreement with Pathak on September 17, 2019 at 1.51pm for ₹2 crore. At the time, Ansari and Tewari paid ₹50 lakh to the landowner as initial payment. The remaining amount was paid at the time of the official registry on March 18, 2021. The trust also purchased the land the same day.
On the increase in price from ₹2 crore to ₹18.5 crore, the trust said Ansari and Tewari had purchased the land in September 2019, before the Supreme Court’s verdict. After the apex court verdict, the price of land in Ayodhya skyrocketed, Rai said.
The Uttar Pradesh government defended the trust, with deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma stated that some people did not let go of any opportunity to defame Ram Janmabhoomi. “The trust is the authority here. It has to reply. But I wish to say that why do these people start talking about Ram temple and Lord Ram when elections get close. They must stop being allergic to the name of Lord Ram,” he said.
The Congress demanded intervention by the Supreme Court to ascertain the facts. Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party chief Om Prakash Rajbhar, who is a former ally of the BJP, demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe. “Shri Ram himself is justice, truth, faith. Betrayal in his name is unrighteous,” party leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
In Mumbai, Shiv Sena MP and party spokesperson Sanjay Raut sought a clarification from the trust. Samajwadi Party spokesperson Anurag Bhadauria demanded a probe.“A theft has happened in the name of Lord Ram, Lord Ram will certainly punish. This is sin,” he said.