Above: The NGT found that forest land in Gorakhpur was handed over to builders by the GDA/Photo: gorakhpur.finalreport.in
The NGT has unearthed a big fraud by the Gorakhpur Development Authority relating to 150 acres of forest land with 9,500 trees which were auctioned to two big colonisers in Yogi Adityanath’s constituency
By Atul Chandra in Lucknow
The Uttar Pradesh government has filed a review petition against an order of the Allahabad High Court concerning 150 acres of forest land in Gorakhpur, the parliamentary constituency of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. In addition, the promoters who were accused of being hand-in-glove with the Gorakhpur Development Authority (GDA) in this scam have filed a contempt petition. A public interest litigation against the transfer of land by the GDA is also pending in the High Court.
The huge scam went undetected until a Monitoring Committee of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) got wind of it. The Committee, headed by former Allahabad High Court judge Justice Devi Prasad Singh, described it as the unearthing of “a big fraud in relation to 150 acres of valuable forest land situated in the wetland area presently having 9,500 trees and which is in the form of forest”. The land parcel is part of 362 acres which were declared forest land by the state government.
The Committee, which has been constituted for monitoring rivers and water reservoirs in eastern Uttar Pradesh, has found the GDA guilty of auctioning the forest land to two big colonisers of Gorakhpur—M/s Bhavvya Colonizers and M/s Jalan Complex Private Limited—in 1997 even though it was not its rightful owner.
The Committee said: “150 acres of land through auction purported to be transferred on 14.02.1997 by the Gorakhpur Development Authority to M/s Bhavvya Colonizers Private Limited and M/s Jalan Complex Private Limited appears to be an instance of commission of fraud…Since the transfer of aforesaid land was done by commission of fraud and without taking into account the provisions contained in the Forest Act, the whole action being a fraudulent act is void ab initio and is liable to be ignored with continuous settlement of land to the Forest Department/GDA.”
The Monitoring Committee said in its report to the NGT that the UP government in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court had stated that 362.33 acres of land was forest land. The apex court had directed it to maintain it as forest land in 1986. The land, therefore, could not be auctioned by the GDA.
In view of the “fraud”, the Monitoring Committee has recommended to the NGT that the deposits of the two companies “are liable to be forfeited”. It has recommended the imposition of “environmental compensation” on the GDA.
The Committee also said that the country’s environment was suffering because of the collusion of people at the “helm of affairs”, besides the huge loss being caused to the state exchequer.
According to the monitoring panel’s case, out of 150 acres of forest land, 50 acres were allotted to M/s Bhavvya at Rs 258 per square metre, while the remaining 100 acres were allotted in favour of M/s Jalan Complex at Rs 205.51 per square metre. This deal, the panel said, was approved by the commissioner/chairman of the GDA on March 29, 1997.
A year after the GDA allotted the land to the two firms and finalised a payment schedule, the principal secretary of the state forest department amended an earlier Government Order, vide a letter dated September 14, 1998, to give up its ownership/ possession over 150 acres of the total area of 362.33 acres of land in favour of the GDA. The land was to remain in the ownership of the GDA even as the nature of land was to “remain as forest land as there were trees and forest standing on the land”. After this Government Order, the possession of land was transferred to the GDA on June 7, 1999.
The GDA’s collusive role and the fraud lay in the date—February 14, 1997—on which it transferred the 150 acres of forest land to the two private companies. This preceded the date—June 7, 1999—on which the Forest Department gave possession of the land to the GDA by almost two years.
In other words, the GDA sold the prime forest land to the private entities even before the Forest Department passed its ownership to the Authority. The Committee, therefore, said: “Since the GDA was having no right, title or possession over the aforesaid forest land on the date of auction, the whole action of the GDA being without jurisdiction is void ab initio.”
The two firms were given allotment letters for the land on April 3, 1997, but after depositing the first installment, “they did not turn up for the execution of the agreement, nor for taking possession of the land”. Non-payment of the remaining amount led to the interest burden rising.
The government was informed that in the case of 100 acres of land allotted to M/s Jalan, an amount of Rs 7,23,81,411 towards value of the land and lease rent, plus Rs 56,52,39,763 towards interest (making it a total of Rs 63,76,21,174) was due from it. Similarly, the amount outstanding against M/s Bhavvya worked out to Rs 40,02,39,077.
The state government through a set of four Government Orders dated August 20, 2008, December 22, 2008, December 26, 2008, and January 2, 2009, ordered the interest to be waived and thus exempted the promoters from paying it. The GDA Board, however, decided to cancel the land allotment.
As “aggrieved parties”, the two promoters filed writ petitions before the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench. Disposing of the petitions, the Court, vide its judgment dated May 25, 2018, directed the GDA to “execute the sale deed in view of allotment of land made on the basis of auction sale of 1997 without asking for the balance amount of the value of land and hand over possession of land to the allottees”.
But Justice Singh, heading the Monitoring Committee, points out in his report that the High Court “has not
considered the factum with regard to transfer of wetland, vesting of land in the forest department as well as right and title of the GDA to transfer the land in question through auction sale”. It does not, he says, “decide the validity of auction”. Hence, the order “has no binding effect so far as proceedings of auction and sale are concerned and the government has the right to reconsider the matter….”
The Monitoring Committee has proposed that the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department keep possession of the 150 acres of land and maintain it as forest land/wetland. It has also proposed that no construction of any nature be raised on the land and the state government and the GDA maintain the area as a green area to attract tourists.
It is to be seen if these directions will be followed.