Land acquisition for the grand Ram temple in Ayodhya has come under a political controversy, with questions raised on how the price of a piece of land rose to ₹18 crore from ₹2 crore in a matter of minutes.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) and AAP have alleged irregularities in the purchase of a piece of land by the government-appointed Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust and have called for a CBI probe.
The trust has rubbished the allegations as politically motivated, but these have surfaced barely a year ahead of the UP Assembly polls. The land in question is in Ayodhya’s Vijeshwar area. comprising 12,080 sq m.
In November 2019, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court pronounced its judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit. The court ruled that the 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya would be handed over to a trust for the construction of a Ram temple. The court directed the government to give 5 acres of land to the Sunni Waqf Board in Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque.
Jumping into the fray, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has said that misuse of donations by devotees is a sin and an insult to their faith. “Crores of people made their offerings at the feet of God out of their faith and devotion. Misuse of those donations is unrighteous and is a sin,” she tweeted.
What’s the controvery about?
While the Ayodhya temple has always been steeped in controversy, the fresh issue is over alleged siphoning off of funds by the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust through a land purchase.
In a presser on Sunday (June 13), Pawan Pandey of the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party alleged: “The piece of land was purchased for ₹2 crore by Ravi Mohan Tiwari and Sultan Ansari. Only 10 minutes later, the trust bought the land for ₹18.5 crore on March 18.”
Pandey claimed that ₹17 crore was sent to the bank account of Tiwari and Ansari through the RTGS mode of payment. He sought a probe into the RTGS money transfer. He further said trust member Anil Mishra and mayor of Ayodhya Rishikesh Upadhyay were witnesses in both the sale agreements.
The SP asked: How can the value of a piece of land increase from ₹2 crore to ₹18.5 crore within minutes?
AAP’s Sanjay Singh termed it a case of money laundering. “Champat Rai, the general secretary of the trust, with the help of member Anil Mishra, bought the land. This is a case of money laundering, and the government should get it probed by the ED (Enforcement Directorate) and CBI,” said Singh in Lucknow.
Trust general secretary Rai, who is also a senior leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), said: “We have been facing such allegations against us for 100 years. We were accused of killing Mahatma Gandhi. We do not fear allegations. I will study the allegations leveled at us and probe them.”
Ayodhya Mayor Upadhyay called it a political conspiracy. “I am a witness in a lot of deals. The deal was made years back. The trust will explain all this. The people who have objected have an issue with Lord Ram. One can check what the market rate is.”
The Supreme Court in 2019 directed the Centre to set up a trust to oversee and manage the construction of the temple within three months of the judgment. The trust was awarded the disputed 2.77 acre land as well as the 67.703 acre land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, following the Supreme Court verdict.
The workings of the trust
The trust members include senior lawyer K Parasaran, Jagatguru Shankracharya, Jyothishpeethadheeshwar Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati Ji Maharaj from Allahabad, Jagatguru Madhavacharya Swami Vishwa Prasannatheerth Ji Maharaj, Pejawar Math in Udupi, Yugpurush Paramanand Ji Maharaj from Haridwar, Swami Govinddev Giri Ji Maharaj from Pune and Vimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra from Ayodhya.
The other members are: Anil Mishra, a homoeopathic doctor from Ayodhya and Kameshwar Chaupal from Patna, who is a Scheduled Caste member, and Mahant Dinendra Das, Nirmohi Akhara, Ayodhya Baithak.
The Centre nominated 12 of 15 members of the trust. Kesava Parasaran, the former attorney general who represented Shri Ram Lalla Virajman in the Ayodhya case, was made the acting chairman.
On February 19, 2020, the trust nominated the rest of its members and elected Mahant Nrityagopal Das as the chairman. In November 2020, it appointed Larsen &Toubro as the design and build contractor and Tata Consulting Engineers as the project manager consultant for the construction of the temple.
Further contracts were signed with Tata Consulting Engineers and Design Associates Inc. for the development of the 67-acre temple complex.
Temple work progress
Meanwhile, work on the foundation of the temple is expected to be completed by October this year. In January, Rai had said the temple would be built in around three years and the construction cost of the project would exceed ₹1,100 crore.
Donations for constructing the Ram temple were collected earlier this year, and around ₹2,100 crore has been donated till date. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation of the temple on August 5 last year.