Cong govt in Himachal does a U-turn, set to restore land lease to Ramdev
The Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government in Himachal Pradesh wants to restore the lease of land allotted to Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Yogpeeth.
This is surprising because the same government, upon assuming power in 2012, had cancelled the lease, which had been granted by Prem Kumar Dhumal's BJP government.
The state is set to go to the polls at the end of the year, and people have been left scratching their heads about the Congress government's U-turn. The question they're asking is: how can something that was hitherto 'illegal' be suddenly 'legal'?
On 17 February, the state cabinet decided to consider the Haridwar-based Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust's request to review its decision to cancel the lease. In return, the Trust would withdraw the civil writ petition filed by it in the state High Court.
The land in question is around 96 bighas (28 acres) at Kehlog near Sadhupul in Solan district, and had been leased to the Trust at a token amount for 99 years.
The Trust plans to set up a branch of yoga and ayurveda-related medical science research and health tourism institute, which would also produce herbal medicinal plants.
The lease agreement for 99 years reportedly involved a payment of Rs17 lakh by the Trust, along with a token payment of Re 1 per annum during the lease period. The Trust had reportedly invested Rs.11 crore on the land till the Congress government decided to cancel the lease in February 2013.
The government is yet to take a final decision on the re-allotment of the land. It was in for some embarrassment when its own MLA from Kasumpti, Anirudh Singh, requested it not to return the land, but use it for the construction of gau sadans, an orphanage or a sports complex.
A major issue
The issue of lease to the Trust had been a major poll issue in 2012, and was a part of the Congress's 'chargesheet' against the Dhumal government.. The party had said that there had been violation of land laws, and the piece of land, priced at Rs 35.4 crore at the time, had been given at a throwaway price.
Following the recent U-turn, the matter has taken centrestage in the political discourse once again, as the Congress has been unable to give a rationale for its change in stand.
“This is 101% a politically motivated move. There are two theories doing the rounds. The first one is that state governor Acharya Devvrat is seen to be very close to Ramdev. Some people say that apparently he has a role here. The second is the desperation of Virbhadra to win the forthcoming Assembly polls. He has been going around raining sops. Wherever people have sought new tehsils or colleges, he is just giving them without considering the impact on the state finances. The main question is that how come something that was illegal till yesterday and had been taken over with police help becomes legal at this time,” said Mohinder Nath Sofat, a former BJP MLA who is now with the Aam Aadmi Party.
The same sentiment was echoed by Solan-based journalist Sanjay Hindwan. “Why did they have to create the drama of cancelling the lease in the first place. Do they take the people for granted? What needs to be probed is the understanding that the government has reached with Ramdev,” he said.
The BJP had defended its decision to lease out the land saying that the Trust, with an initial investment of Rs 50 crore, would eventually provide employment to about 1,000 local people, directly or indirectly.
This is perhaps the reason behind the Congress's U-turn – it might be looking for electoral gains by restoring the lease.
“The locals were happy when the project was announced and very upset when the lease was cancelled,” said Yogesh, a local kisan sabha leader in the Sadhupul area. “They have been looking at economic development that would come through once the project gets going. Those who will benefit are from adjoining villages in five Panchayats falling both in Solan and Shimla districts, hence covering multiple Assembly constituencies.”
He further pointed that Sadhupul had already emerged as a tourist destination, and the project would be a multiplier in the economic development of the area. Villagers also point to the development in the Waknaghat area close by, where two private universities have come up, brought about a lot of economic changes.
“The Congress probably doesn't want to annoy Ramdev fans. Every nook and corner of the state has a Patanjali outlet, which shows the popularity of Ramdev and his enterprise. In addition to this, the apple growers are looking at a facility that would consume their culled apple. As such, the government owned Horticulture Produce Marketing Corporation (HPMC) is unable to fully address their need,” said a political observer in Shimla.
But there are many who also point out that the constituency of Ramdev followers is primarily aligned with the BJP, and there is little hope that the Congress would benefit from the move.
It remains to be seen when the Congress takes the plunge, and eventually restores the lease.