Fearing low govt rates, Ayodhya villagers are selling land to a private company

The circle rate is much lower than the market rate, and a company is buying up parcels of land.

WrittenBy:Basant Kumar
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Something’s afoot in Majha Tihura village, located eight km away from Ayodhya.

Stretches of land are demarcated by tin alongside a hoarding of Amitabh Bachchan that says “The House of Abhinandan Lodha”. Abhinandan Lodha, a real estate tycoon in Mumbai, allegedly began buying up parcels of land here from May 2023.

Abhinandan’s father is Mangal Lodha, a businessman, BJP leader and Maharashtra’s tourism minister. So far, Abhinandan’s company – HOABL Realtech Private Ltd – has bought 25 acres of land in Ayodhya through 75 sales, according to the Uttar Pradesh stamp and registration department. 

While the value of the land based on the circle rate is over Rs 14.68 crore, Abhinandan’s company bought it for an astonishing Rs 38.10 crore. Amitabh Bachchan has bought land here too.

Circle rates are decided by the government. While land prices in Ayodhya are currently sky-rocketing ahead of the Ram temple consecration, the government’s circle rate is much lower than the market rate. According to Moneycontrol, efforts to raise the circle rate “have faced resistance”.

Which is when, according to villagers, HOABL came along and urged them to sell their land to the company instead of waiting for the government to “force” them to sell at a lower rate.

But locals also have mixed feelings, with several of them now worried about the company offering different rates to different villagers.

Land boom 

In UP, land is measured by biswas. One hectare equals 76 biswas while one acre is 32 biswas. In the village, the circle rate for one biswa is Rs 55,000.

Ramji Yadav, 33, told Newslaundry that he and his relatives sold about 110 biswas of land – of which 10 biswas belonged to him – to HOABL. 

His family was paid Rs 4.15 lakh per biswa for the deal. 

At the time, Ram said they thought it was a “reasonable price”. But now, according to his aunt Gyanmati, the company is paying Rs 6 lakh per biswa.

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The land bought by HOABL.
Gyanmati, a resident of the village.

“They made fools out of us,” she said. “They took our land by scaring us. The company’s people came and asked us to sell it to them or else the government would take it from us for a cheap price. We cannot fight the government. If they want to take the land, we can’t stop them either. So, in such a situation, we sold it to the company.”

Her husband Doodhnath Yadav was equally bitter. “We were illiterates,” he said, “so they made fools out of us.”

This was echoed by Puran Yadav from Majha Tihura, who sold the most land – 81 biswas – to HOABL. As per the circle rate, the price of his land was valued at Rs 29.99 lakh. HOABL bought it for over Rs 4 crore. His son Rajendra said they received half the amount at the time of purchase and the remaining was deposited by cheque into their bank account six months later.

Similarly, a villager named Raj Bahadur sold 64.55 biswas of land to the company for over Rs 3.23 crore. As per the circle rate, he would have only got Rs 45.54 lakh.

But the company did not pay the same rates to all the villagers; it discussed with each villager on a case-by-case basis. For example, Mamata Singh, Ashish Prajapati and Rahul Mani sold 0.0633 hectares of land each to HOABL. The market price of the land was Rs 17.29 lakh. But Mamata was paid Rs 30 lakh by the company, Ashish Rs 20 lakh and Rahul Rs 25 lakh.

Ramroop Manjhi sold 11 biswas to HOABL for Rs 49.5 lakh though the circle rate was only Rs 38 lakh He said he had been in a hurry to sell because “then the government will take it”. “At least they are offering good rates,” he said of the company.

Gangaram Yadav, whose father Durga Prasad Yadav sold 39 biswas, told Newslaundry the villagers were convinced the government would “offer less money” and leave them with no choice.

“We didn’t want to sell our land but the people from HOABL scared us, saying the government will acquire our land,” said Gangaram, whose father was paid Rs 4.15 lakh per biswa. “We were helpless so we sold it to them.”

According to Gyanmati, a company official named Vikas Pandey had visited them twice with notices saying the government planned to acquire land in their village. 

Pandey is the North India business development head of HOABL. He firmly told Newslaundry all the villagers had sold their land with full consent.

“No one’s land has been bought under duress or by using force,” he said. “All locals maintained their trust in the company’s people for a year. The company bought this land after research and other formalities. If a farmer says something later after seeing our development, it’s not applicable.”

‘Govt may acquire at any time’

The fear of the government acquiring land is real.

The Uttar Pradesh government, represented by a sub-divisional magistrate and an assistant revenue officer had conducted several meetings in May and June last year with villagers from Majha Barhata, Majha Tihura and Majha Shahnevajpur over the issue.

“These officers came here twice or thrice,” said Ramroop Manjhi. “They said the price of land in this village was Rs 54,000-55,000 per biswa. They said they could give four times the price but not more. The farmers were asking for more.” 

Ramcharan Yadav, the pradhan of Majha Tihura.
OP Pandey, an officer with the UP Housing and Development Board.

Ramcharan Yadav, village pradhan of Majha Tihura, said farmers at the time had asked for Rs 6 lakh per biswa but did not get it. He also alleged the UP Housing and Development Board offered Rs 6 lakh per biswa in neighbouring Shenevajpur but only Rs 2.5 lakh per biswa in Majha Tihura.

Newslandry spoke to OP Pandey, an officer with the UP Housing and Development Board who had met with villagers over the issue. He said, “We are government employees. We purchase according to the rules. The circle rate in Shahnevajpur is higher. Tihura’s circle rate is Rs 11 lakh per hectare. We were ready to offer four times that – that is, Rs 44 lakh per hectare – but we cannot offer more than that.”

Pandey added, “We have obtained 700 acres through gazette notifications in Majha Tihura. We haven’t acquired that land but can do so anytime. The farmers cannot sell that land. We will pay for it according to the rates stipulated by the government.”

Does the UP government plan to obtain more land in the village down the line? Pandey was vague.

“We do not know what the government will decide in the future. If it decides to do so, we will take the land. If the farmers don’t want to give it to us, we can take it through the district collector as they are the real owners of the land,” he said, referring to powers vested in the district collector to requisition land in certain cases.

This report was translated from Hindi to English by Utkarsh Sharma.

Update at 5 pm, Jan 20: This report incorrectly referred to the company as Lodha group. It is actually the House of Abhinandan Lodha, ie HOABL, which has no connection to Lodha group. The error is regretted. The article image has also been changed.

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