Baba Ramdev, the real estate mogul

The government says it has quashed 1.2 lakh shell companies, but entities affiliated with the Patanjali group have somehow escaped detection

Ramdev’s close associate Acharya Balkrishna (in white) set up Corrupack in 2009 to manufacture packaging material; its real business however is real estate. (Photo: Getty)
Ramdev’s close associate Acharya Balkrishna (in white) set up Corrupack in 2009 to manufacture packaging material; its real business however is real estate. (Photo: Getty)

Shreegireesh Jalihal & Tapasya

India knows Baba Ramdev as a yoga guru who made his wealth through business ventures that straddle both material and spiritual worlds. But in the forested village of Mangar in the Aravalli Range bordering Delhi, Ramdev is better known as a real estate mogul.

The Reporters’ Collective investigation found that a number of shell and shadowy companies linked to the Patanjali group— largely controlled and managed by Ramdev’s younger brother and close business associates—have been buying and selling land in Mangar, Haryana, for the last decade.

Corporate groups and wealthy individuals are known to deploy shell companies—firms that exist only on paper—to hide the real beneficiaries of transactions, conceal their actual wealth from citizens and governments and avoid paying taxes. Such companies can be used to move illegally earned money and give them a veneer of legitimacy through banking channels.

The Indian government stated in Parliament in February 2023 that, over the last three years, it eliminated more than 1.2 lakh such shell companies that did not file their financial statements with the government. It turns out, though, that companies affiliated with the Patanjali group escaped the government’s radar. Our investigation found that some of these companies do not actually make or sell any of the goods they officially claim to.

Baba Ramdev’s brother Ram Bharat and closest business associate Acharya Balkrishna, who is the co-founder and managing director of Patanjali Ayurved, set up a company called Corrupack in 2009. Corrupack, they claimed, would manufacture packaging material. It was registered in Haridwar, Ramdev’s home ground. Going by the latest corporate filings, Balkrishna owns 92 per cent and Bharat the rest.

In the past 12 years of its existence, Corrupack has not done a single rupee’s worth of its stated business. Instead, it has been buying and selling land in Mangar with the money funnelled into the firm. Legally, it can lease or buy land to support its main business activity of manufacturing and trading in packaging material. It cannot run a real estate business.

A year after its incorporation, Corrupack’s bank account began to swell. In 2010, Acharya Balkrishna gave the company Rs 2.99 crore. Soon came another tranche of Rs 2.42 crore from Gangotri Ayurveda Pvt Ltd, and Rs 5.6 lakh from Aarogya Herbs (India) Pvt Ltd. Balkrishna owns majority shares in both companies. Aarogya Herbs alone holds 28 acres of land in Mangar.

In effect, Balkrishna—managing director of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd and Baba Ramdev’s right-hand man—had transferred over Rs 5 crore to Corrupack. They claimed the money was given as an advance against shares that Corrupack would offer to Balkrishna directly, through his other two shell companies.

This simple ‘give money and take share’ is, in genuine cases, a milk run and should be closed in a few weeks. But, over the years, neither Balkrishna nor these two other shell companies got shares against their purported ‘share application money’.

The Companies Act, 2013, mandates that shares should be allotted within 60 days, failing which the advance must soon be refunded. Illegally taking an advance as share application money attracts a penalty of up to

Rs 2 crore. In Corrupack’s case, the shares were never allotted. Over time, the share application money was either shifted to the ‘other current liabilities’ section in their accounts, or dwindled down.

The company also got some unsecured loans—money given without any collateral—from other Patanjali companies: Rs 6 lakh each from Cheneena Impex Pvt Ltd, Prarekha Exim Pvt Ltd and Smitasha Impex Pvt Ltd.

Patanjali Corrupack admits in its records that these companies are ‘related parties’ where ‘key management personnel or their relatives can exercise significant influence’. Thus, these too belonged to the lesser-known nodes of Baba Ramdev’s business empire.

We were also able confirm that all three companies are shareholders in Aastha Broadcasting Network Limited, which runs Ramdev’s Aastha channel, per the latest corporate filings.

Fuelled with the money supplied by the Patanjali network, Corrupack became a real estate dealer. Within a year, plots owned by the firm in Mangar went up from 59.74 acres to 70.92 acres. Records reveal that these had been purchased for a total of Rs 4.9 crore.

Faridabad, where Mangar is located, is part of the National Capital Region (NCR), a patchwork of booming cities, which makes it a goldmine for builders. Just to get a sense of how lucrative it is, one acre can house approximately seven buildings, each with 10 2BHK apartments.

In April 2015, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar offered Baba Ramdev the status of a state cabinet minister. Ramdev, a resourceful holy man supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declined the offer. “Now that PM is ours, entire cabinet is ours, Haryana CM is ours and his cabinet is ours, so let baba remain a baba,” said Ramdev.

The outward trappings of power were, for Ramdev, redundant. He had already gained proximity to power through his strong electoral support to the BJP and Narendra Modi. In turn, Ramdev and his Patanjali group benefited in Haryana from the BJP government’s policies in the state.

Judicial records, policy papers and government records reveal a concerted effort by the Haryana government to ensure that parts of the sensitive Aravalli range stay unprotected. The state stonewalled two crucial Supreme Court orders (1996 and 2022) that extended protection to these forests, state deforestation laws as well as a union government law that protects ecologically vital land in and around Delhi.

The state’s dilly-dallying helped lay the ground for an undercover real estate business that flourishes in the forestlands of Aravalli. One of the main beneficiaries is Ramdev’s Patanjali group, which sells ayurveda, cosmetics, food and other FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods) through the front door, while buying and selling large tracts of land in the Aravalli through dubious entities and shell companies.

We traced at least 14 companies and two trusts of Baba Ramdev’s empire that have traded in Mangar village. We found evidence of at least four of these 14 companies and one of the two trusts selling off the lands in Mangar to other corporations that are, by their own claims, real estate dealers.

In its annual corporate filings, a company is not required to explicitly state the profits made by selling a particular plot of land. However, by cross-referencing records of the real estate firm that purchased the land against those of the shell company (Kankhal Ayurveda Private Limited) that sold the property in question, we were able to make some calculations.

We found that in just one land deal, Kankhal Ayurveda received a whopping 365 per cent profit. This, for a company that has never done any business that its promoters, including Acharya Balkrishna, officially set up the company for.

Kankhal Ayurveda was incorporated in August 2006 by Patanjali’s Acharya Balkrishna and the late Swami Muktananad. On paper, it was created to manufacture and sell ayurvedic, unani, homeopathic and allopathic medicines and cosmetics. Till date, it hasn’t manufactured any of these items, and yet, it has got rich.

In the initial years, Balkrishna directly, and through other Patanjali-linked companies, pumped money into Kankhal Ayurveda. Over the years, Kankhal Ayurveda kept buying up forestland in Mangar.

The company auditors, going by the company’s claims, reported that these lands had been bought for the ‘purpose of setting up of its industry where ayurvedic medicines and products will be manufactured’. That was a lie. The company never set up the industry. Instead, it sold off most of this accumulated land to a real estate company and made a killing. These profits were pumped into other companies linked to the shadowy Patanjali empire. Money then kept changing hands.

By FY2022, Kankhal Ayurveda held land worth Rs 10,93,000 in Mangar village, claiming it was for its ‘own use’. No assets had been built, not even a chair had been bought. Instead, the company pumped the revenue generated from the sale of lands into at least 16 other Patanjali-affiliated companies, as well as the Nepal-based airline company, Guna Airlines. And—it bought yet more land in other parts of India.

There is no public record of authorities having scrutinised these shell companies set up to turbocharge Patanjali’s secret real estate business. The last time such land transactions by the Patanjali group came under scrutiny was in 2012, when the Congress-led UPA government was in power at the Centre and Ramdev was going hammer and tongs after it for alleged corruption.

The Reporters’ Collective sent detailed questionnaires to the registered emails of this shadowy web of companies, copying them to Patanjali Ayurved Limited’s Chief Operating Officer, S. K. Tijarawala. The questionnaire was also sent to Acharya Balakrishna. The response was short and simple: We have done no wrong.

(Edited excerpts from a two-part investigation by The Reporters’ Collective)

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