Exclusive: Why did the Ram temple trust cut deals with absconding fraudsters?

Harish and Kusum Pathak sold portions of a property allegedly belonging to the Waqf board to the trust. The couple also face charges for cheating and forgery in a multi-crore bond scheme.

WrittenBy:Ayush Tiwari& Basant Kumar
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Meet Harish Pathak, an absconding fraudster who signed a land deal in March this year with the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, with the Ayodhya mayor as a witness. Since 2016, he and his wife, Kusum, have been booked for theft, impersonation, cheating, forgery and criminal breach of trust in multiple cases.

The cases pertain to a multi-crore bond scheme introduced by Pathak’s company, called the Saket Goat Farming Company, in 2009. In 2018, he was declared an absconder.

You might have heard of the Pathaks lately. On March 18, they sold 1.2 hectares of property in Ayodhya’s Bagbijaisi village to Sultan Ansari and Ravi Mohan Tiwari for Rs 2 crore. Ansari and Tiwari then sold the land to the Ram mandir trust for Rs 18.5 crore at Rs 1,423 per square foot – a transaction that the Aam Aadmi Party and the Samajwadi Party have called a “scam”.

That day, the Pathaks also sold another 1.03 hectares of land in Bagbijaisi village directly to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust for Rs 8 crore at about Rs 716 per square foot, according to documents accessed by Newslaundry.

The circle rate – the minimum amount of sale decided by local authorities – puts the value of this land at Rs 4.97 crore, Rs 3.03 crore lower than the amount paid by the trust.

The Pathaks are accused in cases across several districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Barabanki, Faizabad and Sant Kabir Nagar. Their son, Vikas, was arrested in January this year in a cheating case, in which Harish and Kusum are co-accused. He’s currently out on bail.

In 2018, a car belonging to Harish was seized by the Ayodhya police while he was absconding in a 2016 cheating case. According to a police officer at the Cantt police station, the Pathaks did not show up for proceedings in the local court. So in August 2018, the court declared them absconders and directed the police to seize their properties. The car still stands at the police station.

The property in Bagbijaisi village in Ayodhya.
Pathak’s seized car at the Ayodhya Cantt police station.

Records show that the 2.24 hectares of land bought by the mandir trust from the Pathaks – directly and via Ansari and Tiwari – is a disputed property. It is looked after by the family of one Waheed Ahmed under the aegis of the Sunni Waqf board.

Harish Pathak, serial fraudster

In October 2019, Gonda resident Ram Sagar approached the Ayodhya police. In 2009, Sagar had invested in a bond scheme run by the Saket Goat Farming Company, which lists Harish Pathak as director.

The scheme sold a bond for Rs 5,000 and promised a return of Rs 8,000 after 42 months. If the money did not arrive, the customer would get two goats instead.

Sagar had invested Rs 30 lakh in the scheme and persuaded several other people to invest another Rs 60 lakh in it. But 42 months later, the return on his investment did not arrive. Pathak, who fashions himself as Baba Haridas, also went missing.

After years of protest and pleading with Pathak’s associates, Sagar filed an FIR (419/19) against Pathak on October 19, 2019 at the Cantt police station in Ayodhya.

Harish, Vikas and Kusum Pathak were listed as the accused in the FIR.

“The scheme has beggared people,” the FIR stated. “The company fled just before the bonds matured with goats bought from the bond money.”

Sunil Kumar Shukla headed the Barabanki branch of Saket Goat Farming Company, headquartered in Faizabad town. In 2011, networking with kith and kin, he brought Rs 40 lakh worth of investment into Pathak’s bond scheme, putting in Rs 35,000 of his own money. He met with the same fate as Sagar and filed a complaint in August 2020.

On Shukla’s complaint, the Barabanki police booked Pathak, Kusum and Vikas for theft, impersonation, cheating, forgery and criminal breach of trust. The FIR – 291/20 – was filed in Barabanki’s Haidergarh police station.

“We had arrested his son, Vikas, in the matter,” Mukhtar Shah, the station house officer at Haidergarh police station, told Newslaundry. “We’re still searching for Harish Pathak.”

“My family and I have been ruined because of this fraud,” Shukla told us, breaking into tears. “We managed to get him to return Rs 7.5 lakh somehow. But a lot of money is stuck. He hasn’t yet been arrested and enjoys impunity.”

In Sant Kabir Nagar, Rakesh Kumar convinced customers to invest Rs 40 lakh in the scheme, including Rs 20,000 of his own. When the bonds matured in 2013, Kumar approached Pathak for returns.

In 2019, he told a civil court in Sant Kabir Nagar that Pathak had threatened to kill him. Again, the police did not file a case against Pathak. In an order, accessed by Newslaundry, the court directed the police to book Pathak and his associates.

Lakshmi Narayan, who managed the Fatehpur branch of Pathak’s company, got more than 15,000 people to sign up for the bond scheme, with a total collection of Rs 7 crore. The returns never came. “I’m preparing to file an FIR against Pathak,” Narayan told Newslaundry. “People curse us for selling them this scheme. It was a total fraud.”

Kusum and Harish Pathak.

Trust land a disputed site

In total, the Pathaks sold five parcels of land on March 18, 2021 -- parcels 242/1, 242/2, 243, 244, and 246.

Parcels 243, 244 and 246 were sold to Ansari and Tiwari for Rs 2 crore who then sold them to the mandir trust for Rs 18.5 crore. Parcels 242/1 and 242/2 were directly sold to the trust.

In 2017, the Pathaks had bought the five parcels of land from four individuals – Javed Alam, Mehfooz Alam, Firoz Alam, and Noor Alam – for Rs 2 crore .

But Waheed Ahmed, a distant relative of the Alams who has managed the five parcels of land since 2017, said it was not their property to sell in the first place, because it belongs to the Waqf board.

There is a backstory to this dispute. In 1924, Hazi Faqir Mohammad, Ahmed’s great- great-grandfather, gave away the land to the Waqf and became its first mutawalli, or superintendent.

Under Indian law, a superintendent can manage Waqf land but cannot sell, exchange or mortgage it without the permission of a court or the Waqf.

In 1986, the family elected one Mehmood Alam as the property’s superintendent. In 1994, he was succeeded by another relative, Mohammad Aslam. But in 2009, Aslam discovered that Alam’s sons – Javed, Mehfooz, Firoz and Noor – were listed as owners of the property.

Aslam protested this subterfuge to the local tehsildar. In September 2017, after a protracted battle, in an order accessed by Newslaundry, the administration stayed the sale of the land in Bagbijaisi. Until May this year, the property had a banner proclaiming that it was a “disputed site controlled by the clan of Haji Mohammad Fayak”, an ancestor of Alam and Ahmed.

Waheed Ahmed at his home in Ayodhya.
‘This is a disputed property,' proclaims a signboard on the land that was recently uprooted.

“It was uprooted by the Pathaks,” Ahmed claimed.

A note prepared by a Waqf official, who investigated the dispute in April 2018, stated that the Bagbijaisi land belonged to the Waqf and that the Alams had sold it to Harish and Kusum Pathak without permission. Newslaundry accessed a copy of this note.

Javed Alam, Mehfooz Alam, Firoz Alam and Noor Alam nevertheless sold the five parcels of land to the Pathaks in November 2017. Noor has officially been the mutawalli of the property since 2012, though Ahmed was elected by the clan as the caretaker in 2017. On April 22, 2018, Ahmed filed an FIR against the four brothers at the Ram Janmabhoomi police station.

The FIR – 40/18 – stated that the Alams had sold the land to the Pathaks after forging documents of land owned by the Waqf “which cannot be sold”. The Alams were booked under sections 419, 420, 467, 468 and 506 of the Indian penal code and charged with impersonation, forgery, cheating and criminal intimidation.

On March 18, 2021, the day the Pathaks sold their land to the trust, a fourth transaction took place: Harish Pathak gifted 0.089 hectares of land from this property to Ravindra Dube, Harish Pathak’s driver.

“I’ve been working for Harish Pathak for five years,” Dube told Newslaundry. “He gifted me the land for my services to him.”

Trust mum on Pathak’s record, land dispute

For a comment on our findings, Newslaundry reached the office of Champat Rai, general secretary of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, in Ayodhya. Rai’s associates, however, told us that he is not talking to the media about the Bagbijaisi land matter. We sent a set of questions to Rai. This report will be updated if we receive a response.

Ayodhya mayor Rishikesh Upadhyaya and trust member Anil Mishra also did not respond to our calls.

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