Chhattisgarh afforests land, sells it to minister's wife for resort

Sarita Agrawal, wife of Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Chhattisgarh minister Brijmohan Agrawal, has acquired 4.12 hectares of forest land, which was owned by the government and is now building a resort on it along with her son, raising questions of propriety and conflict of interest.

The purchase in September 2009 was red-flagged by several officials of the Raman Singh government as recently as 30 June this year, but Agrawal's ministry put down in writing that ''it is not possible to take any action in the matter'', reports today said.

Brijmohan Agrawal has been the MLA from Raipur South since 1990 and is now minister for agriculture, water resources and religious trusts and endowments. When his wife bought the land, he was minister for school education, public works department, Parliamentary affairs, tourism and culture.

The resort, called Shyam Vatika, is being developed near Sirpur in the Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh, a site with several Buddhist archaeological excavations carried out. Agrawal's ministry has identified this region as a potential tourist destination.

Two companies, Aditya Srijan Pvt Ltd and Purbasa Vanijya Pvt Ltd, have acquired land for the same project. Registrar of companies records show that the former company has both Sarita Agrawal and her son Abhishek Agrawal as directors while Purbasa Vanijya has Abhishek Agrawal as one of its directors.

According to The Indian Express, records show that on 2 March 1994, along with five other farmers of Jhalki village,  one Vishnu Ram Sahu gave these 4.12 hectares to the water resources department as part of ''daanpatra'', a system where private individuals give their lands to the government for public good as ''daan''. Almost immediately, this plot, as part of a total of 61.729 hectares, was handed over to the forest department

Records show that the union ministry of environment and forests gave preliminary clearance to this transfer on 2 May 1994. Nine years later, Rs22.90 lakh was spent on afforestation of this land, as well as building ''cattle protection trenches''. The union ministry then gave final clearance to the transfer of land on 17 December 2003.

Land registry records accessed by The Indian Express show that Sarita Agrawal bought three ''khasras'' - 1.38, 1.37 and 1.37 hectares - totalling 4.12 hectares on 12 September 2009 for Rs5,30,600.

Incidentally, this 4.12 hectares finds mention in the 2013 election affidavit of Brijmohan Agrawal with the affidavit listing the land as registered to his wife. Records investigated by The Indian Express show that different government agencies - office of the collector, Mahasamund; commissioner, Raipur; forest and water resources departments - all arrived at the same conclusion: that this was land meant to be with the government but because of ''laxity in records,'' it remained in Vishnu Ram's name who then sold it to the minister's wife.

The plot first came under the government's scanner in March 2015 when one Lalit Chandranahu of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangh of Mahasamund district wrote to Mahasamund collector Umesh Kumar Agrawal and the then Raipur commissioner Ashok Agarwal alleging that while the plot was transferred to the government, revenue records did not show this.

In August 2016, Chandranahu sent a second complaint that the land had been bought by Sarita Agrawal.

Based on this complaint, the collector and the commissioner, now Brijesh Mishra, asked the forest and water departments to provide records of the plot's ownership. Barely four months later, another complaint dated 2 December 2016, was sent to the Prime Minister's Office by a whistleblower that mentions the acquisition of this forest land.

On 16 March 16, 2017, the collector noted that that land had been given to the forest department but since there was ''laxity'' in changing the name in the revenue records, it remained in the name of the original owner Vishnu Ram who sold it to Sarita Agrawal.