Book extract: Baba Ramdev’s Nepal connection

The book by Kaushik Deka gives an insight into some of the controversies which have courted Ramdev and, how with the new regime’s blessings, he has managed to sidestep some of them

Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Web Desk

Ramdev may have lofty goals but his project in Nepal landed in a controversy after a media report claimed that Patanjali Ayurved Limited invested more than ₹150 crore in the country without official approval. The Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act requires any foreign investor to get permission from the Investment Board Nepal, or the Department of Industries, before investing in Nepal. The report in Nepal’s largest selling newspaper Kantipur Daily said Ramdev failed to seek such mandatory permissions.

Ramdev denied the allegations, in a statement released on November 28, saying his company did not flout any local law. The proposed investment from Patanjali Ayurved Limited will flow into Nepal only after completing all due legal processes. According to Ramdev, Patanjali Yogpeeth of Nepal, which is likely to be Ramdev’s partner in the country, did not receive any sort of investment from India. Nepali businessman Upendra Mahato and his wife Dr Samata Prasad own Patanjali Yogpeeth Pvt Ltd (Nepal). Patanjali (the parent company) has been exploring the possibility of “herbal farming” as well as buying rare herbs for his Ayurveda plants from Nepal, in collaboration with Mahato’s company.

“Entire investment in Patanjali Yogpeeth in Nepal has come from Mahato and his wife. When we invest in the company in future, which we plan to do, we will follow the prevalent laws of Nepal and take approval from the concerned government authorities,” Ramdev said in a statement. He doesn’t forget to mention that that proceeds from that company will not be distributed to the investor but “will be spent on philanthropic activities.”

Ironically, just five days before this statement, Ramdev himself had announced in a press meet that Patanjali had invested ₹150 crores in an Ayurvedic factory in Nepal and was planning to further invest ₹500 crore in the future. He claimed his investment was meant for the production of organic medicine and other items, which would generate 20,000 jobs in the country. The next day, Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurated the Patanjali factory in southern Nepal’s Bara district. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Minister for Agriculture Gauri Shankar Chaudhary were also present on the occasion.

And this was not the only controversy he generated in the neighbouring country. Ramdev’s bid to get nearly 134-hectare land for an Ayurveda college-cum-hospital in western Nepal’s Dang district also ran into rough weather. The Nepal Sanskrit University in Dang, apparently, had agreed to lease out to Patanjali Yogpeeth a vast stretch of the land under its possession for forty years, but before the deal was signed, a section of the university administration opposed the move saying the university land could not be leased out to anyone for more than ten years. Ramdev plans to build an Ayurvedic hospital, an ashram, a herb garden and a cowshed on the land.

In February 2016, the Himachal Pradesh Government cancelled 28 acres of land allotted to Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust, on lease, at Sadhupul in Solan district, citing irregularities. In 2010, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government had given the land to Patanjali Yogpeeth for a payment of ₹17 lakh and, a 99-year lease, at a token annual fee of ₹1. “It’s a political conspiracy. We have followed the legal procedure,” said Balkrishna.

In 2009, a Non-resident Indian (NRI) couple gifted Ramdev a 900-acre island in Scotland, called Peace Island. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, filed a case against Ramdev, investigating a possible violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) for this. The Directorate closed this case after the BJP came to power. Another money laundering case pending against Balkrishna was closed in October 2014. Two months later, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a closure report to the case of the mysterious disappearance of Ramdev’s guru, Shankar Dev, in 2007 from the Patanjali Yogpeeth campus.

In 2011, the CBI filed a case against Balkrishna on charge of holding a passport made on forged documents. His high school degree—Purv Madhyma and Sanskrit degree— Shastri, from Sampurna Nand Sanskrit University—do not allegedly exist on records. Congress leader Digvijay Singh accused Balkrishna of committing crime in Nepal and fleeing to India, a charge later denied by the Nepal Government.

Balkrishna disappeared in 2012 after the CBI summoned him in the forgery case and the ED later registered a case against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act for alleged illegal remittances. Balkrishna was imprisoned for a month on charges of carrying a false passport—the Government said he was a Nepali passing himself off as an Indian. Balkrishna recalled a phase when, out of fear that the Government might plant drugs in the factories, he hired sniffer dogs to scout not only the premises but also employees’ lunch boxes to ensure no one was attempting sabotage. The cases were dropped after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power in 2014. The two-year CBI investigation against him found “no evidence” of wrongdoing and he was given a clean chit.

In 2013, the Uttarakhand Government registered 96 cases against the Patanjali Yogpeeth and its sister concerns in Haridwar for violation of the Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms (ZALR) Act and the Indian Stamps Act. The then Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna had said that several of the properties held by the Patanjali Trust had turned out to be benami transactions with no trace of the owners. The cases under the ZALR Act included encroachment upon about 7.8 acres of gram sabha and government land by the Trust in two villages, Shantarshah and Aurangabad. The Trust had purchased 387.5 acres of land in villages Aurangabad and Shivdaspur for establishing the Patanjali University. The varsity was built on about 20 acres and the rest was being used for agriculture and possibly being retained as a land bank for future commercial uses. The Trust purchased 84.86 acres of land in village Mustafabad in the name of Patanjali Food and Herbal Park without seeking necessary permission from the authorities. “This was a serious violation of the law and suitable action would be taken against the Trust,” said Bahuguna.

Similarly, the permission granted to purchase 141.17 acres of land for manufacturing Ayurvedic medicines in village Mustafabad was being violated by using the land for manufacturing, warehousing and marketing of a whole range of Patanjali products like flour, oil, juices, honey, soaps, toothpaste and shampoo.

The former Chief Minister also alleged that there had been 63 cases of undervaluation of the stamp duty that caused a loss of `10 crores to the State exchequer. Later, the Uttarakhand government registerd 11 more cases of stamp duty evasion against Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust.

A petition was filed before the Indore bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court, challenging the allotment of 40 acre of land to Patanjali Ayurved in Pithampur industrial area in Dhar district to set up a food-processing unit. The business bench of the High Court, comprising of Justice P.K. Jaiswal and Justice Virendra Singh has sought an explanation from Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government over the allotment of land to the company by Audyogik Kendra Vikas Nigam (AKVN).

According to petitioner Anand Mohan Mathur, who is a senior advocate, the State government floated no tender for allocating land worth several crores. Apart from the allocation of the land, the government also obliged Ramdev by giving assurance that his product would be sold through ration shops and cooperative societies. Advocate Mathur said that the government should have been transparent and a clean procedure for the allocation of land should have been followed.

Maharashtra Congress MLA Sharad Ranpise has alleged that the Maharashtra government has incurred a loss of ₹209 crore by giving land at a concessional rate to Patanjali’s food processing unit in Mihan in Nagpur. According Ranpise, Mihan SEZ Project was being allotted at the rate of ₹1.16 crore per acre and, by this rate Patanjali should have got its share of 230 acre at the cost of ₹267 crore. Instead, the government charged only ₹58.65 crore from Patanjali, which means that the land was allotted at the rate of ₹25.5 lakh per acre. Countering the allegation, Minister of State Madan Yerawar said that since the land that was given to Patanjali is outside the Mihan SEZ and is underdeveloped so its cost is less.

Ramdev denies that the government offered any special favour to him. “We got 230 acres of land from the Maharashtra Government for food park through an open tender. I even invited other people to join, at half the rate, but nobody came forward. I think that’s what the government and Modiji should do now—offer land to Indian enterprises with some subsidies, so that India becomes world’s largest manufacturing hub,” he said.

Excerpts taken from Kaushik Deka’s book, The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon: From Moksha to Market, with permission from Rupa Publications. Pages 200; 295.

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Published: 21 May 2017, 3:03 PM