GU­JARAT: CONGRESS’S FLOCK AFLUTTER

Al­le­ga­tions against min­is­ter Bri­j­mo­han Agrawal give CM Ra­man Singh the edge

India Today - - INSIDE - By Rahul Noronha

When Ch­hat­tis­garh agri­cul­ture and wa­ter re­sources min­is­ter Bri­j­mo­han Agrawal’s name cropped up in a land scam, it was just what chief min­is­ter Ra­man Singh needed to cut him down to size ahead of the as­sem­bly polls in 2018. A six-time MLA from Raipur since 1990 and a min­is­ter in the Sun­der­lal Patwa gov­ern­ment in un­di­vided MP, Agrawal has al­ways felt he should have been the CM.

Even as al­le­ga­tions sur­faced that not only had Agrawal’s wife Sarita and their son Ab­hishek il­le­gally pur­chased for­est land but also en­croached on some 14 hectares of gov­ern­ment land in Jhalki vil­lage, be­sides ac­quir­ing an ad­di­tional 27 hectares of patta land, given to farm­ers and trib­als, the min­is­ter rushed to ex­plain his case to the BJP lead­er­ship in Delhi. Mean­while, sources say, a re­port pre­pared by the state chief sec­re­tary on the CM’s or­ders points to ‘wrong­do­ing’.

As per the al­le­ga­tions, Sarita and Ab­hishek pur­chased 4.12 hectares in Sir­pur (Ma­hasamund district) in 2009 to build a for­est re­sort. While con­struc­tion was un­der way, it emerged that the land had been do­nated to the state wa­ter

re­sources depart­ment—in­ci­den­tally one of Agrawal’s current charges—by its owner, Vishnu Sahu, in 1994. The hold­ing was sub­se­quently trans­ferred to the state for­est depart­ment, and Rs 22.9 lakh spent on af­foresta­tion in 2003, but it was not no­ti­fied as for­est land.

While the chief sec­re­tary’s re­port hasn’t been made pub­lic, there are se­ri­ous ques­tions on how land reg­is­tered in the name of the for­est depart­ment was sold to the min­is­ter’s fam­ily. Lo­cal rev­enue of­fi­cials aren’t speak­ing, given the po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties in­volved, but sources say or­ders have al­ready been is­sued to an­nul the ‘sale’.

Agrawal, mean­while, main­tains that the land was legally pur­chased from its farmer-owner and was also listed among his as­sets in his af­fi­davits to the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. How­ever, not many in the rul­ing BJP have spo­ken up for Agrawal. And the Congress, too, has been un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet, some say, be­cause of the min­is­ter’s rap­port with Op­po­si­tion lead­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately for Agrawal, his strength in the state BJP stems from his pop­u­lar­ity on the ground, and not his prox­im­ity to the cen­tral lead­er­ship. His only hope, an­a­lysts say, would be in the BJP’s re­luc­tance to take ac­tion on the al­le­ga­tions he faces. A pos­si­ble de­noue­ment could per­haps be in re­turn­ing the land to the for­est depart­ment. Agrawal would suf­fer fi­nan­cially, but it may bring him a mea­sure of po­lit­i­cal redemp­tion.

NOT MANY IN THE RUL­ING BJP HAVE SPO­KEN IN FAVOUR OF AGRAWAL

UN­EASY COM­PANY

Bri­j­mo­han Agrawal (right) with chief min­is­ter Ra­man Singh

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