The Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, tasked with overseeing the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, has formed a five-member committee to buy land and properties for the grand temple complex. But members of the committee as well as some trustees allege they have not been informed, let alone consulted, about the deals struck so far.
In fact, they say, the committee has not met even once since the trust was formed by the Narendra Modi government in February 2020 on the Supreme Court’s direction.
Kamleshwar Chaupal, a trustee from the BJP, told Newslaundry the purchase committee comprises the trust’s president Nritya Gopal Das and general secretary Champat Rai; Anil Mishra of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; Dinendra Das of Nirmohi Akhara; and Vimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra of Ayodhya’s erstwhile royal family. But Champat Rai and Anil Mishra are basically running the show.
“At the first meeting of the trust it was decided that land for the temple would have to be in line with Vastu Shastra,” said Chaupal, referring to a traditional Indian system of architecture. “So the trustees residing in Ayodhya were handed the task and asked to keep the trust in the loop. They accordingly formed a committee for land acquisition with these five members.”
Chaupal added that while the trust has known about purchase of land, “only these five know about the details of where it is being bought and for how much”.
Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, head priest of Ayodhya’s Mani Ram Das Ki Chhawani temple, is recovering from post-Covid complications. He tested positive for coronavirus shortly after the temple’s inauguration ceremony in August last year. He now spends most of his time in a converted ICU room on the terrace of his temple.
“He does not know anything about the land deals or what the trust is upto,” said Kamal Nain Das, the priest’s aide. “He has not been to any meetings of the land acquisition committee. But he does not need to. We have full faith in the trust’s operations.”
The committee, however, hasn’t met even once, claims a trustee familiar with its working. “The show is run entirely by Anil Mishra and Champat Rai,” the trustee said. “It’s been 16 months and the committee hasn’t convened to discuss the deals.”
Dinendra Das told Newslaundry that he doesn’t know much about the committee’s land buying in the town. “I only know that land is being bought,” he added. “Not where, from whom, for how much.”
An aide of Dinendra Das told us, on the condition of anonymity, that the Nirmohi Akhara chief’s exclusion from the process has disheartened his followers. “At the trust’s meeting, they give him tea and take his signature. That’s it,” he said. “He fought for the Janmobhoomi but he has been reduced to a puppet amid these suspect deals.”
Vimlendra Mohan Prasad Mishra declined to comment for this story.
Chaupal told Newslaundry that 16 months after its inception, the trust itself has met only four times. The first meeting was held in February 2020 in Delhi, the second and third in March and July in Ayodhya. The lone meeting of 2021 took place in Ayodhya on June 13.
The meetings in Ayodhya are held at the Circuit House in Faizabad.
Dinendra Das at his ashram in Ayodhya.
Rai and Mishra’s role in the trust’s land adventures in Ayodhya has come under increasing scrutiny. Their names pop up in controversial property deals for which the trust has poor defence or none at all.
Rai is vice president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Mishra is an influential member of the RSS in Uttar Pradesh.
Champat Rai is general secretary of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust. Photo via Facebook.
Anil Mishra, 64, is a member of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust. Photo via Facebook
On June 13, Aam Aadmi Party’s chief spokesman, Sanjay Singh, that the trust’s land dealings in Ayodhya were a “scam”. Brandishing records, Singh explained how the trust, in Rai’s name, had bought a 1.2 hectare property at Ayodhya’s Bagbijaisi village for Rs 18.5 crore on March 18 from Ravi Mohan Tiwari and Sultan Ansari.
The prevailing rate of the land, set by local authorities in 2017, is Rs 4,800 per sq metre. The trust paid Rs 15,315 per sq metre.
Tiwari and Ansari, the records showed, had bought the property for Rs 2 crore only a few minutes before from Kusum and Harish Pathak, an absconding couple booked for fraud and forgery across eastern Uttar Pradesh. The rate applied in this transaction was a mere Rs 1,656 per sq metre.
On June 17, the Indian Express that the trust had purchased another piece of land, measuring 1.03 hectares, at Bagbijaisi directly from the Pathaks for Rs 8 crore at the rate of Rs 7,715 per sq metres, nearly half of the transaction involving Ansari and Tiwari.
Rishikesh Upadhyaya, a BJP leader who is the mayor of Ayodhya, was a legal witness of these transactions. The other witness was Anil Mishra.
Newslaundry confirmed that Ravi Mohan Tiwari is related to Upadhyaya. He’s brother-in-law of Sitla Pathak, who in turn is father-in-law of Upadhyaya’s son.
Another relative of Upadhyaya – his nephew Deep Narayan – also grew his fortune by playing middleman in land deals involving the trust. On June 19, Newslaundry that Narayan had bought a 0.0890 hectare property in Kot Ramchandra, near the so-called Ram Janmabhoomi, for Rs 20 lakh from Devendra Prasadacharya, mahant of Ayodhya’s Dashrath Mahal temple.
Three months later, on May 11, Narayan sold it to the trust for a whopping Rs 2.5 crore. Mishra was a legal witness in this deal as well.
Both properties bought by the trust – at Bagbijaisi and Kot Ramchandra – have complicated histories. Waheed Ahmed, caretaker of the Bagbijaisi land, produced records, , to show the estate actually belongs to the Waqf board, and couldn’t be sold to the trust. An by Ayodhya’s district administration earlier this week revealed that the land bought and sold by Narayan is owned by the government. Prasadacharya, it found, was a tenant-cum-guardian and “did not have the right to sell the land”.
Mishra did not answer multiple calls for comment. At his home in Faizabad’s Lakshmanpura, we were informed that the RSS leader was out of town. We sent a set of questions to Mishra. This story will be updated if we receive a response.
Champat Rai did not respond to calls for comment either.