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Smriti Irani’s husband engulfed in a legal tangle

Smriti Irani’s husband engulfed in a legal tangle
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Did Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani’s husband, Zubin, and the hospitality company he is associated with, encroach upon land owned by a school in Umaria district?  

~By Neeraj Mishra in Bhopal

In May last year Zubin Irani, husband of Union textile minister Smriti Irani, became a shareholder in Markaz Hospitality Private Limited, in which the Kumra brothers—Rohit and Amit—are directors. The company had plans to build and run a resort adjacent to the famed Bandhavgarh National Park on a five acre plot in Bighari village located in Manpur Tehsil of Umaria district in north-east Madhya Pradesh.

But Markaz Hospitality ran into trouble once the company started fencing the purchased plot since it apparently encroaches upon the land belonging to the Kuchwahi Primary School. Jankiprasad Tiwari, the principal of the school, has lodged a complaint with the collector and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. While the entire case has acquired a political hue with the Congress raking up the issue, there are legal tangles which Zubin may find difficult to untangle. The land is right next to the school building and there is perhaps only a six-inch gap separating the two.

India Legal asked district collector Umaria, Abhishek Singh, about the legal status of the land. “It seems a fair purchase but I have asked the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of the area to verify,” he says. But he points out land records are not clean in the area and measurement and demarcation (seemankan) of individual properties have not been done in decades. A reason why Markaz perhaps found the property available at a throwaway price.

Irani has written to the collector and the revenue department of the state government to mark the focal points on the map and replicate these on ground.

The land originally belonged to Hazari Bari which was then transferred (namantaran) in the name of Jaikaran. Later, the Shukla family seems to have bought the land from Jaikaran about a couple of months before it was sold to Zubin. The land is in two pieces and was registered on the same day in the names of Zubin and Markaz at Manpur. The local address provided by the buyers is care of Pragya Tripathi, daughter of a former BJP MP of Rewa, CP Tripathi.

The land transfer, registration and namantaran procedures took place in such haste as to raise doubts. What is the most complicated legal aspect of the issue is that all lands outside the town of Umaria were under the Rewa state during the British Raj. Rewa was notorious for maintaining land records and it is quite possible that the school itself may be an encroachment on Bari’s land. Boundaries of land demarcating ownership were not clear till 1950 when Rewa formally became a part of the Indian union.

SDM JP Yadav, who is inquiring into the matter, adds another angle to the controversy by saying that people of the area are habitual complainants and mischief makers. While this may be true, Yadav’s turn of phrase shows which way the inquiry may be heading.

Irani, on her part, has already written to the collector and the revenue department of the state government to conduct a land survey, to mark the focal points on the map and replicate these on ground. A seemankan that Zubin should have done before acquiring the property will now be done and the issue of encroachment will be decided. The resort may be good or bad for the village but Zubin will be made to pay obeisance to the locals. That is the name of the game in the Vindhyas.

Meanwhile, there are rumours linking Zubin to a 20 acre resort which is being planned adjacent to the Kanha National Park in Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh. But local authorities deny giving clearance for any such project.

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