Modi has been pitching for Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram, to be developed as cultural and spiritual capital of the nation. But lack of any master plan for the city and emergence of a strong nexus between land mafia and officials can play a spoilsport, reports Mudit Mathur
The saffron ideologues – RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath – have been pitching for Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram, to be developed as cultural and spiritual capital of the nation. But emergence of a strong nexus of land mafia, politicians, police and bureaucrats can scuttle their plans and play a spoilsport.
After the November 9, 2019 Supreme Court verdict cleared the decks for construction of the Ram temple, the Ayodhya has suddenly turned into prime and lucrative real estate destination with the announcement of mega development plans. Looking at 2024 general elections, the private buyers are also rushing to temple town anticipating hefty gains from the rolling out of fast track mega projects aimed at revamping the economy of the region.
Soon after performing the Vedic rituals of historical Bhoomi Poojan in Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised, “Ram Mandir will be a modern symbol of our culture, eternal faith, national spirit and collective will power which will inspire the generations to come.” Hailing Shri Ram as a common thread of unity in diversity in the country and recalling his glorious ancient rule, he announced, “The magnificence of this temple in Ayodhya will completely change the economy of the region with opening up of innumerable opportunities across sectors.” But unfortunately, unlawful and unstable growth in the extended areas of city limits is posing grave threat to his ambitious mega plans for Ayodhya.
Even bureaucracy doesn’t want to be left behind in encashing such a feuding ambiguous situation. An MLA of ruling BJP, BJP Mayor, State Information Commissioner and a member of the state OBC Commission who have been found to have indulged in impugned land deals in their own name to the relatives of Divisional Commissioner, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Circle Officer of Police, everyone tried to make hay while the sun shone. The officials bought land at throughway prices after the apex court verdict, all within a 5-km radius of the Ram temple site. Illegal plotting and sale of land without any sanctioned layout or proper registration from the Real Estate Regulatory authority (RERA) are rampant in Ayodhya as a result of a connivance between land mafia, political leaders, police and bureaucracy.
Though the territorial limits of Ayodhya Development Authority (ADA) have increased manifold but it failed to regulate colonising and construction activities because it is still functioning without a mandatorily required master plan due to lack of proper coordination and indifferent response from the government machinery. The first master plan 2001 was enforced in 1986-87 and thereafter ADA failed to reinforce the revised plan with changing demography and determination of new development goals set by Modi and Yogi governments.
The seriousness to notify master plan for 2031 is not visible in the working of ADA as half-hearted exercise has been initiated excluding newly added areas where illegal colonising is on the peak. Thus, it opened the floodgates of unregulated development. Master Plan is the basic statutory requirement to define and determine land use for the various sectors of a planned township. The past experiences have shown that unplanned and unregulated development gives rise to slums and its rehabilitation use to be a major headache for meeting the developmental challenges.
CM Yogi Adityanath instituted an inquiry into the reports of various murky land deals hampering development prospects on account of nefarious activities from the vested interests. But, despite his warnings to remove illegal constructions, the ADA authorities utterly failed to check illegal colonising and ongoing illegal construction thereon. About 45 illegally carved colonies, lacking basic civic amenities, are coming up with all impunity and connivance of concerned authorities posing serious threat of unplanned growth without a sanctioned layout plan and map.
Surprisingly, the ADA has conspicuously left 33 squares kilometres newly extended areas from the ambit of proposed master plan for 2031. The Municipal Corporation has notified 41 villages to be part of its extended area because of the development initiatives taken by the government. A large-scale collusion between builders, town planners and ADA officials has become talk of the town where such illegal colonising has caused concern in the society.
In Devkali area, about 80 houses have come up including a hotel and resort on a land meant for construction of a seed storage but instead of resorting to demolition of illegal construction, the ADA authorities allegedly connived for its regularisation and buried the demolition notice. Similarly, thousands of houses have been constructed in the submerged areas of Jamthara. Here, the four schools including a degree college has come up without any sanctioned map or area layout but ADA turned blind eye towards unregulated mushrooming of illegal constructions. The authorities did not pay heed towards the concerns expressed by local MP from time to time.
The situation became so alarming that even the ruling party Member of Parliament from Ayodhya, Lallu Singh was compelled to write to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demanding a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the illegal sale and purchase of land by land-mafia in areas from Jamthara to Golaghat in Ayodhya which are among doob kshetra (submerged areas). The letter further revealed, “Such is the influence of the land-mafia that in connivance with officials/employees posted earlier, by forging documents and by misleading people, land was listed in their names in the official records. Business of land-mafia is flourishing on the land between Jamthara Ghat and Golaghat.” Despite his letter having become viral on the social media and appeared in newspapers too, Singh when contacted for comment remained tight-lipped on the issue.
After the setting up of the official Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust in February 2020 — the Trust has so far acquired nearly 70 acres land from nearby land owners. The Trust had been under fire over corruption charges for some questionable overpriced land deals acquired for enlarging Ram temple complex area wherein the name of the Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay, BJP functionaries and some trustees had surfaced as witness and middleman in executing questionable land deals for Temple complex. It was then alleged that the value of the land is Rs. 5.80 crore but Sultan Ansari and Ravi Mohan Tiwari got it in just Rs.2 crore. Then within 5 minutes later the same land stood transferred to Temple Trust for Rs. 18.5 crores.
The Ayodhya Development Authority seems to have now woken up from deep slumber and identified 40 persons as “illegal colonisers” of land, plots building infrastructure including Ayodhya city Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay, sitting BJP MLA from the Sadar constituency, Ved Prakash Gupta and former BJP legislator from Milkipur, Gorakhnath Baba.
Now the administration also found that traditional Sapt Sagar pond too was unauthorisedly encroached upon by land mafia where thousands of people have been inhabited by making colony. The revenue authorities are giving notices to the residents for removing their houses otherwise they would face demolition for restoring two-acre pond there.
After the Supreme Court verdict, many controversial land transactions have come to light exposing conflict of interests of various top-level officers who have been entrusted officially to sit and decide revenue appeals and complaints relating to village landholdings under UP Revenue Code 2006 (earlier known as U.P. Zamindari Abolition Act). The land belonging to Dalit is not transferable to upper caste person but there are many such complaints of unlawful transfers are pending for disposal. The Maharshi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust (MRVT) is under scrutiny for alleged irregularities in purchase of land from Dalit villagers but at least in five cases, the beneficiaries who bought the land from the Trust, are, ironically, the close relatives of those officers who have to decide the pending cases. The buyers include local MLAs, close relatives of bureaucrats who have earlier served or are still serving in Ayodhya, and local revenue officials whose job is to adjudicate land transactions.