Rajeev Chandrasekhar, entrepreneur-turned BJP MP from Kerala paved his path to the media field with his venture Jupiter Capital, an investment and financial services firm in 2005 which now owns a number of leading news channels, including Republic TV and Asianet News in Malayalam.
Recently, Rajeev, also the NDA Kerala unit vice chairman, made headlines with a land encroachment issue which came to limelight after a political scuffle that resulted in the resignation of the then Kerala Minister Thomas Chandy.
The Media houses which were running media trials in primetime debates on Thomas Chandy’s alleged land encroachment issue and complex Munnar land controversies, purposefully forgot the scandals looming around Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
Ironically, Asianet News, the prominent news channel in Kerala which was in the forefront of this rabble-rousing against the state government and ex-minister Chandy, is owned by Rajeev. Though they have extensively covered the land encroachment issues in Kerala, they did not even take an effort to highlight Rajeev and his Niraamaya resort which was built on the encroached land.
The Niraamaya resort owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s Jupiter Capital has encroached upon government land on the banks of Vembanad Lake in Kerala. The encroachment of the ecologically sensitive ‘poramboke’ land, the government-owned land, is a fatal violation of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010.
While the channel had been trying to shield their owner by arguing that it was just a cheap counter-argument regarding the issues on Thomas Chandy, the material evidence from local body administration portrayed another picture. On November 23 Thursday, they even dared the Revenue Department, in one of the channel’s shows, to ensure evacuation of the encroached land.
The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) activists marched to the resort compound and planted their flag within the resort compound following the challenge.
On November 24, the revenue officials measured the land and found that the resort was built on the government-owned land. The officials submitted a report to the Gram Panchayat too. The panchayat issued a notice to the Niraamaya administration based on this report.
Even though the DYFI protest and news channel’s challenge were enough to spark a heated debate and push it into the limelight again, the issue still remains behind the curtain.
The letter which has come to light after the row reveals that the Kottayam additional tehsildar had written to the secretary of the Kumarakom gram panchayat, where the resort is located, to look into the charges of encroachment on the directives of the Kerala High Court. However, Chandrasekhar’s company has denied charges of encroachment.
The issue has been floating around for a while. The Jupiter Capital had possessed the land since 2013. The local residents had begun to complain since the start of construction on this site. Kumarakom panchayat president and CPI(M) worker AP Salimon had complained that the Niraamaya Resorts had encroached into survey numbers in block 10 and block 11.
The two plots are adjacent to a canal and one of it abuts into the Vembanad Lake. A local resident’s association, Jana Sambarkka Samity, had filed two writ petitions in the Kerala High Court in 2016. The petition was against the encroachment on poromboke land along the banks of the lake. The petitioners also said that the construction encroached into the public pathway leading towards Vembanad Lake. They had also pointed out that a 30,000-litre sewage effluent tank is being constructed on the premises of the Resort.
The Kerala high court directed the petitioners to approach the Pollution Control Appellate Board to deal with the sewage tank issue. The HC, however, directed the Kottayam district collector to investigate the land encroachment matter. Following the directive of HC, Kottayam additional Tehsildar PS Geetha Kumari had instructed the assistant surveyor to measure the plot. The assistant surveyor had found that the Resort management had encroached into about 2,900 sq ft (6.5 cents) of poramboke land.
The Additional Tehsildar, in his letter to the secretary of the Kumarakom Gramapanchayat says: “The Kottayam Taluk Surveyor had found illegal encroachments in resurvey no 302/1 of block 10; 2.17 is encroachment of the river bank, 0.44 sq mt in block no 11; 0.5 sq meter of encroachment into lake area (a total of 6.34 cents). As per rule 218of the Panchayat Raj Act 1994, lakes are under the jurisdiction and ownership of the Panchayat. So, kindly do attach the encroached area held by Niraamaya Retreats, Kumarakom.”
As soon as the Kumarakom Grama Panchayat Secretary received the letter, it was forwarded to the Kumarakom Village Officer on October 2016. But the officer refused to take action for a year.
The Niraamaya Retreat officials, immediately after the current ruckus over the resort, released a press statement refuting the charges of encroachment.
Meanwhile, the media giant Rajeev moved beyond the borders of Kerala. The latest report from Karnataka says that PVK Koramangala Development Pvt Ltd and Mantri Habitats-- two real estate grounds which are the subsidiaries of Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s Jupiter Capita-- by mortgaging the land raised a loan of Rs 165 crore. The land initially belonged to Karnataka Co-operative Milk Federation (KMF).
Ironically, the government land which was handed over to KMF in 1998, contains a shopping destination owned by PVK Koramangala Development Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Jupiter Capital. Though KMF had built nothing there, they leased out the land for 30 years to PVK Koramangala Development Pvt Ltd.
KMF did not receive any money when it executed the lease deed in 2008, but agreed to a quarterly rent of Rs 35 lakh once a commercial complex was built there. Later in 2011, KMF entered into a joint development agreement (JDA) with Mantri Habitats and received Rs 9 crore as a deposit. KMF was apparently not even a party to that agreement.
PVK possesses full ownership of 44% of the super built-up area as per the agreement and the remaining 56% goes to the Mantri group. The lease further says the two parties enjoy absolute ownership, which means they can "hold, gift, sell, mortgage, lease or otherwise dispose of their respective shares or any part thereof in any manner they may deem fit".
The Mantri group in 2014 had obtained a loan of Rs 50 crore from the Punjab National Bank by mortgaging the very land property owned by KMF. Again, on January 4, 2017, Mantri closed the loan account by paying off the liabilities of Rs 66 crore and obtained a no-objection certificate. Meanwhile, on the same day, Mantri group was given a loan of Rs 140 crore against the 56% share it enjoys, from Lakshmi Vilas Bank for the 'Jupiter KMF Commercial Project'.
Three months later, on March 17, by mortgaging the full two acres and 16.74 guntas of KMF land to Lakshmi Vilas Bank, PVK Koramangala received a loan of Rs 25 crore.
Surprisingly, Mantri Habitats was never a party to any of the agreements drawn up by KMF. But in the loan agreement, Mantri Habitats claims ownership of the property.
"The borrower (Mantri) hereby declares that the premises at Jupiter KMF Commercial Project at Koramangala Bangalore belong to him as owner/lessee" portion in Lakshmi Vilas Bank loan agreement also points to fraudulent activities of Jupiter Capital.