Corruption

Smriti Irani embroiled in land scam 

Purchase of an alleged ‘school playground’ in Kuchwahi, over 500 km from Bhopal, has stirred a row as the company that bought it has Zubin Irani, the Union Minister’s husband, as a shareholder 

Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Vishwadeepak

Purchase of two different plots of land nestling next to the Bandhavgarh Wild Life sanctuary, over 500 kilometres from Bhopal, has been in the news because of the involvement of Zubin Fardun Irani, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani’s husband.

While Zubin Irani purchased a plot in his own name, the second plot was purchased by a company in which he is a shareholder. The company, Markaz Hospitality Private Limited, which is just about 30 months old, has its registered office in Saidulajab (next to Saket), New Delhi.

The controversy arose because

  • The headmaster of a government primary school at Kuchwahi, Janki Tiwari, protested that the plot purchased by the company has been the playground for students. He also claimed that the land on which the school established in 1956 stands and the playground were donated by an affluent villager Hazari Gupta to the government.
  • The villagers complained that representatives of ‘Rani Sahiba’ (Smriti Irani) had raised a fencing which blocked the traditional passage the students used to reach the school.
  • While villagers claim to have submitted a representation to the District Magistrate in January, DM Abhishek Singh denies having received any complaint, according to a Hindustan Times report.
  • The SDM, who was entrusted with the inquiry is quoted in the media as saying that villagers were in the habit of making “baseless complaints”.
  • The land deeds of both Zubin Fardun Irani and the company were registered on the same day and both offered the same address at Rewa, of Pragya Tripathi (MIG 1/06/08 Indira Nagar, Rewa), daughter of late BJP MP Chandramani Tripathi.
  • Speaking to National Herald, Pragya Tripathi said, “At the time of registry, Irani needed a local address. Since she is a senior leader of my party, we are familiar with each other I agreed to give my address.”
  • Pragya is an aspiring leader of the BJP. At present, she is working as Mahamantri BJP women cell in MP. “Sensing an opportunity to become closer to Irani, she happily agreed to give her address after Gupta contacted her,” revealed an insider.
  • While BJP claimed that the formalities required a local address as well as the permanent address, observers believe Tripathi’s address was given to hide the real ownership.Officials also debunked the claim that local address is required while purchasing land.
  • BJP, however, dismissed the allegations as a “political conspiracy” and said that Zubin Irani was only a shareholder but without specifying what percentage of the stake was held by him.
NH Photo
NH Photo
Revenue record of year 1976-77 shows the particular land as land for school and playground
NH Photo
NH Photo
Revenue record of 1977-78 again shows the land as land for school and playground
NH Photo
NH Photo
Ten years later, the revenue record of the same land in 1987-88 shows it as a land for school and playground

The controversy has taken a curious course ever since it was reported that the Union Minister flew into Jabalpur towards the end of April and drove down to Kuchwahi to inspect the land. Local media reports to this effect were vehemently denied by the Umaria district administration without any apparent reason.

The Headmaster’s allegation that revenue records were changed and the descendants of the donor were allowed to sell part of the land without the knowledge of the villagers or the school needs to be probed.

That is because the Headmaster is in possession of an old revenue record (Khasra No 75) which described the plot as having a school building, a garden and the playground. At some point of time, the record was changed, he alleges, and the new record shows only the school building and not the garden and the playground.

Both the land deals were apparently facilitated by one Vijay Gupta, who had worked as assistant to former BJP MP from Rewa Chandramani Tripathi. He is presently the OSD to Union Minister Smriti Irani on whose behalf he had distributed 15,000 saris in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh.

Besides, the playground at Kuchwahi purchased by the company, Irani bought a hectare of land in another village Bijharia, three kilometres away. The seller of the plot, Pushpendra Singh, who lives in Rewa, told National Herald that he received a cheque signed by ZF Irani for ₹9.5 lakh although he was apparently “expecting a higher price”.

When this correspondent visited Markaz Hospitality’s office close to Saket, Delhi, it was found that the company is being run from an almost deserted house located at the end of a lane. There was no sign board displaying the name of the company anywhere.

The manager in charge of Markaz Hospitality, Saurabh, confirmed that the company was being run from the place. He also confirmed that the company has started construction in Bandhawghar and in Chhattisgarh but he refused to reveal further details.

Curiously, the Union Minister is learnt to have written a letter to the DM asking for a thorough probe into the land deal.

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Published: 12 May 2017, 4:55 PM