Land Given At 75% Discount To Patanjali, RTI Officers Who Made The Information Public Transferred
Two information officers who helped make public RTI documents on land allotment to Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda in March this year were transferred less than a fortnight later, raising questions on why the officers were penalised for their actions, said a report by The Times of India.
Earlier, IAS officer Bijay Kumar was shunted from the finance department shortly after he questioned the basis of a 75% discount for a land awarded to Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd. The report detailing how the price was knocked down, was based on RTI documents. The land belonged to the Maharashtra Airport Development Authority (MADC).
The RTI documents were received months after the application was filed and appeals were pursued all the way up to then chief information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad. The then MADC chief Vishwas Patil was summoned to appear in person by him, for a hearing on March 3. However, just 12 days later, two Public Information Officials (PIOs) involved in providing the documents were transferred. Both of them had attended the hearing.
Transfer of information officials
MADC’s marketing manager Atul Thakare who was PIO of its Nagpur branch was moved to Mumbai. Marketing Manager Sameer Gokhale who was a PIO in Mumbai was transferred to Nagpur. Thakare had served in his post for four years and Gokhale was transferred just four months after his appointment as marketing manager.
“The erstwhile MD had assured me of a promotion for my work but I got a sudden transfer instead,” said Thakare. However, Gokhale said, “The transfer may have been for administrative reasons,” as reported by The Times of India.
A MADC official said that the transfers may have been routine. “It is possible the new entrant was sent to our field office in Nagpur and the experienced marketing manager was moved to our head office in Mumbai.”
The timing of transfers, however, has raised concerns. “It is a clear case of victimisation for following the law. It will discourage officials from providing information and serve as a bad precedent,” said Shailesh Gandhi, a former central information commissioner.
The two PIOs had little choice in providing the documents, Bhaskar Prabhu, the convenor of Mahiti Adhikar Manch said. The state information commission can impose a penalty of up to Rs 25,000 on PIOs for denying or obstructing information.
Backdrop of filing an RTI
According to a report by the India Today, Mumbai Congress Chief had filed a petition alleging irregularities in the allotment of land to the company for setting up a food park in the Multi-Modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN).
Nirupam had alleged that while the current market value of the land is at least Rs 1 crore per acre, Patanjali Ayurveda had received at a throwaway price of Rs 25 lakh per acre. The Bombay High Court had asked the BJP government in Maharashtra whether they gave away over 600 acres of land in Nagpur to Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda at a throwaway price.
“We want to only know on what grounds concession, if any, was given to the company. We want to know if the land was given at a throwaway price,” a division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice GS Kulkarni asked the state government. The court had directed the Devendra Fadnavis government to file an affidavit in response to the petition within six weeks.
The court further added, “We want to know if any farmer’s land was taken and allotted to the company.” The affidavit will also have to include the company’s proposal to the government.
Nirupam had further alleged in his petition that Maharashtra government flouted all tender norms to allow the land to the yoga guru Ramdev baba’s company and that the government favoured Patanjali.
Bureaucrat shunted after questioning cheap land allocation
Documents accessed through RTI show that the decision was not uncontested. A senior bureaucrat, then principal secretary of financial reforms, Bijay Kumar has raised concerns in writing about the basis of the price waiver.
Three weeks after Kumar questioned the financial calculations behind the price reduction, he was transferred on 29 April, 2016. The transfer came less than a year and a half into his posting, while the usual tenure is at least three years.
MADC board is headed by CM Devendra Fadnavis told that the entire process was transparent and the allotment followed open bids. He also said Kumar’s transfer was routine and he had been given a posting of his choice.
Kumar was also a member of the sub-committee which the MADC board relied on. The panel was headed by urban development secretary Nitin Kareer. In August 2016, the sole bidder Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd was awarded 230 acres of the land, paying Rs 58.63 crore for a 66-year lease.
Setting the price
To bring down the price, the panel first subtracted the cost of providing infrastructure as the plot was in an undeveloped area. That meant a reduction of Rs 1000 per square metre in the base price, working out to Rs 1, 500 per square metre. MADC officials then further suggested a markdown by lowering base price to Rs 625 per square metre, “considering the rates of adjoining states and viability of such projects.”
The sub-committee ended up endorsing the suggestion. It said, if the plot was bid for an offset price of Rs 625 per square metre, then, the price of the remaining unsold land in the area should be proportionately increased” to compensate for the discount given to Patanjali.
The Logical Indian take
One might ask, why is one particular organisation is getting more preference over the other companies when it comes to allocation of land? Another pertinent question that can be raised in this context is, why is there no transparency when it comes to the tender and bid for Patanjali.
Patanjali got the lease of the land at a throwaway price, a price which is way lesser than the actual price. Additionally, the bureaucrat who questioned the price of the land was also transferred, along with the two PIO who helped make public the RTI documents on land allotment to Ramdev’s Patanjali. Thereby bringing out the fact that transparency was missing.
The Logical Indian community urges the concerned authority to look into the matter and ensure no partiality is done for any organisation while processing tenders to provide them lands on the lease. It would also urge the authorities to look into the matter as to why the officials have been transferred, whenever they have tried to bring out malpractices into the broad daylight.
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