Since Narendra Modi took office in May 2014, Patanjali has acquired almost 2,000 acres of land for building factories, research facilities and establishing supply chains of herbs for its products. The group is now the fastest growing FMCG company in India, as the state governments are rolling out red carpets for land acquisition by amending laws and overlooking interests of the locals.
In a latest, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has invited Baba Ramdev’s firm to set up a soybean processing unit in Latur, and has offered the company 400 acres of land at 50% of the market rate – among many other concessions. These concessions include waiving stamp duty, recompensing the GST that Patanjali would have to pay, and reducing Rs 1 per unit in electricity charges, as the project comes under the MSME category.
The CM’s letter inviting Baba Ramdev mentioned that the soybean processing unit will not only lead to farmers getting a good price for their harvest, but will also generate employment.
This move is the second such move in Maharashtra. Previously in 2016, 230-acre land was allotted to Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Food and Herbal Park in Nagpur at a throwaway price, which was later expanded to 330 acres. The land was acquired to set up a herbal product manufacturing plant. It was being claimed that the plant will provide employment to over 10,000 people.
However, the land has not been used to construct any manufacturing unit, so far. It has only a few sheds on it with no sign of any manufacturing or processing units. On the other hand, the farmers who surrendered their land in 2013 say that they feel cheated because they were paid a meagre amount of Rs 3.5 lakh per acre, while the current market rate is Rs 45 lakh per acre.
The latest offer by the Fadnavis government was made less than a week after the CM shared stage with him at a yoga event in Nanded.
Since Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, Ramdev's company has received discounts worth more than $46 million for land acquisitions in states controlled by the BJP, according to Reuters. It has also gained access to a few pieces of land free of charge, says the report. These hefty discounts are enjoyed by the firm primarily because of the nature of the sanctions and support that the firm received from the state government.
In June this year, the firm successfully acquired over 400 acres of land – which was “common land” or shamlat deh – in Haryana’s Aravalli region in Faridabad district. From its latest acquisition spree, the pattern of the firm becomes evident.
Speaking to NewsClick, Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava of the Land Conflict Watch revealed, “There is a pattern that the firm follows because of which Baba Ramdev has expanded onto multiple avenues. Its founder started out as a Yoga guru, and now, the firm has become a real estate giant. The group targets controversial land through frontmen and zero revenue companies and this builds up over the years.”
Also read: Patanjali Floated No-revenue Companies to Acquire Land, State Facilitated Acquisition, Says Report
The Aravalli land was taken over through power of attorney (PoA) agreements signed with other owners of the disputed land. These agreements were signed mostly between 2014 and 2016. During this period, purchase, registration and mutation of land records to reflect sale were not permitted without the approval of the Panchayat and the state officials. The PoA route bypassed the need for recording the change of ownership by keeping the deals discreet.
Shrivastava added, “We have seen that there is an attempt by the state government to ensure the consolidation of the land by the Patanjali group through various legal processes and loopholes. Several state government officials had raised doubts about it, but the state government had gone ahead with the process. At the cost of environment and conservation of the Aravalli hills, the government has made it easier for the firm to consolidate land holdings, making it clear that there is back hand support to the firm by the government in power.”
In February, the Haryana Assembly amended the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1990, opening up thousands of acres in the mountain ranges for real estate development and mining. Following this, the Supreme Court had sharply rebuked it for trying to “destroy the forest”. The top court had barred any action under the amended Act.
The Haryana state government has tried to take several other such steps over the past four years to dilute or do away with the legal protection that the Aravalli forests derive out of various laws and regulations. For instance, it has been delaying identifying forested hilly tracts of the Aravallis as legal forests as directed by the Supreme Court in 1996. In 2018, the idea of consolidation of Kot village land was resurrected for a third time.
Patanjali has used a variety of tactics to ensure consolidation of land, for example, in Himachal Pradesh last year, the state government leased out over 96 bighas of land in Sadhupul of Solan. Instead of the market rate, Patanjali acquired the land on lease for 99 years by giving a meagre lump sum of Rs 2.39 crore – lower than what the previous Congress regime had asked the company to pay. This move is said to incur the state government approximately a loss of over Rs. 100 Crore. The land was given to Baba Ramdev by a previous BJP government led by Prem Kumar Dhumal, but later, this decision was overturned by the subsequent Congress government. However, in a parting stint, the Virbhadra-led Congress government leased the land at Rs. 1.19 Crore per annum to Patanjali. Had the government stuck to the deal between the former Congress regime and Patanjali, it would have incurred profit worth more than Rs. 115 Crore than what the current BJP has signed the deal for. Additionally, apple farmers were also rendered landless by the deal, without any alternate means of livelihood.
Data reveals that in the BJP-controlled states, Patanjali received a discount on the land purchased worth 77% of the market prices. The company has pledged to use the property to create more jobs with new factories. In Assam – where the firm had its largest transaction for approximately 1,200 acres of underdeveloped Bodoland – it had promised “protection of the land”. The deal took place sometime between October and December 2014. According to state legislature documents, the land was "allotted without cost" to Patanjali Yogpeeth, a trust controlled by Patanjali Managing Director Balkrishna and Ramdev, on the condition that it be used for the "preservation and promotion of cow breeds". The arrangement permitted Patanjali to collect medicinal plants, a vital component for its expanding line of natural products. Later in November 2016, the group was offered approximately 148 acres of land in Balipara at 36% discount for a period of 30 years.
However, the largest deal of the group was facilitated by the Haryana government, when in 2017, the group tied up to develop a 53,000-acre land to grow herbal plants free of cost. The government had described this tie-up as something “non-commercial”. In another instance, in Uttar Pradesh, last year, the Yogi Adityanath government approved the proposal to allow Patanjali Ayurveda Pvt Ltd to transfer its land to its subsidiary company for setting up a Rs 6,000-crore mega food park in Greater Noida along the Yamuna Expressway. Patanjali can also lease out 20 acres of land to other companies for commercial activities. The firm with as many as 21 private limited companies and 26 partnership firms has now established itself as a real estate giant, from selling yoga to now its own brand of fashion, Baba Ramdev, along with his subsidiaries, is leading a process of massive land acquisition, actively supported by the government – often under the garb of development and employment generation.
Also read: Himachal Pradesh: Land Taken from Poor Farmers Distributed to Benefit Big Businessmen