A political storm is brewing in Gujarat over a land deal for a resort on the fringes of the Gir sanctuary with which Anar Patel, daughter of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, is associated. The issue, raised by the Congress, has provided fuel to the rivals of the Chief Minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who have launched a hush-hush campaign against her over the last several months.
Anar admits that she has business relations with one of the promoters of the controversial Wildwoods Resorts and Realties Pvt Ltd (WWRRPL), but denies any involvement in the deal. The state government, on the other hand, has claimed that there was nothing illegal in the allotment of government land to WWRRPL. BJP leaders have condemned the Congress allegations as politically motivated to defame the Chief Minister and her daughter.
Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia, who culled all details of the deal, says the speed at which the entire process of clearing land and other permissions for the project was done and the throwaway price at which the government land has been given to the promoters, tells the tale of corruption of the Narendra Modi model of governance at the time when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat and Anandiben was Revenue Minister.
After Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, she became the Chief Minister. But she still has the revenue department under her. This controversial deal has certainly added to the problems of the Chief Minister, who is facing a powerful Patidar agitation for the past seven months.
Modhwadia says that it all began with the allotment of 250 acres of government land next to the Gir lion sanctuary. The company was registered with the Registrar of Companies on July 23, 2008. At that time, the company was owned by Sanjay Dhanak, a Dubai-based businessman and son of a former MLA close to the BJP. It applied for land on September 1, 2008, and the district-level valuation committee suggested a nominal price for the land on December 5, just in three months. The District Collector forwarded the application to the government the very next day, on December 6, 2008.
The state-level committee cleared the proposal with the valuation of Rs. 15 per sq m in December 2009 and, in July 2010, the Cabinet, with Modi as Chief Minister and Anandiben as Revenue Minister, cleared the project.
He says the land was given to WWRRPL at Rs. 15 per sq m, which comes to Rs. 60,000 per acre. The estimated market price of this land was to the tune of Rs. 50 lakh per acre—a total of Rs. 125 crore for 250 acres.
The firm changed hands in 2011-12. One of the original promoters of the company and its present owners are Anar’s business partners, he says. It was acquired by Parshwa Texchem (India) Private Limited, owned by Dakshesh R Shah and Amol Shripal Sheth’s Anil Infraplus Limited. Currently, the ownership pattern of Wildwoods is Parshwa Texchem (50 per cent), Anil Infraplus (49.9 per cent), Shah (0.04 per cent) and Anil Hospitality Ventures Limited (0.04 per cent). Shah and Parshwa Texchem are business partners of Anar Patel, he says. Wildwoods also brought an adjoining 172 acres of agricultural land. Non-farmers are not permitted to purchase agricultural land, but the firm was granted permission in 2011. The state government permitted conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural use.
The land is in an eco-sensitive zone. But the company was given permission, flouting all norms for any activity in the region. On August 19, 2009, Wildwoods applied to the Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF), Dhari, for obtaining recommendation/NOC for construction of resorts having the following facilities: Phase-I Cottages—60; Phase-II Villas-A—75; land requirement for construction—77,768 sq m.
ON December 14, 2009, Gujarat’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden granted an NOC for establishing and opening of resort at Patla village of Dhari to WWRRPL via their letter No.WLP/28/0/327-31/2009/10.
Meanwhile, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Government of Gujarat, issued a circular No.WPS/32/B/6129-85/2010-11, dated December 7, 2010. It directed that, as per direction of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the Government of India, on August 19, 2010, for any non-forest activities within a 10-km radius of a protected forest, it is mandatory to get prior environmental clearance from the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife.
The resort did not come up as, in a suo motu PIL, the Gujarat High Court sealed all resorts in the eco-sensitive area. However, to protect the interests of this company, the government changed its rules and reduced the no-construction area from 2 km to 1 km.
Anar reacted to the controversy through her Facebook account: “I, Anar Patel, am neither a director nor a shareholder in WWRRPL (Wildwoods Resorts and Realties Private Limited), Anil Infraplus and Parshva Texchem. I don’t have to do anything with WWRRPL, anybody can check with the government authority.”
The land is in an eco-sensitive zone. But the company was given permission, flouting all norms for any activity in the region, alleges the Congress
“Indeed, Daksheshbhai (Dakshesh Shah, who owns WWRRPL along with Amol Shripal Seth of Anil Infraplus) is my business partner, but that doesn’t mean that I am there in all his companies. He is a self-made businessman and is in business since last 22 years,” she wrote.
“We started a company, named ‘Anar Projects’, seven years back with business interest in retails and services. We never took any favour from any government organisation, we strictly followed all rules and regulations in all manners. It’s disheartening that my individuality is attacked based on sheer assumptions. I believe in my moral strength, not in anyone’s favour,” she wrote in her latest post.
However, the Chief Minister’s trouble did not end with these denials. A PIL was filed in the Gujarat High Court on February 20. Somnath district-based RTI Activists Sangathan (RAS) filed a PIL seeking the court’s intervention in the matter. The PIL has raised the issue of the conflict of interest, saying the 250-acre land was given to Wildwood Resorts at an official rate of Rs. 15 per sq m, against the rate of Rs. 180 per sq m.
While farmers are not allowed to dig a borewell because of the sanctuary, Wildwoods is being allowed to go ahead with the construction work, claims Nalin Kotadiya, a BJP MLA
On the other hand, Nalin Kotadiya, BJP MLA from Dhari constituency, has come out openly against the Chief Minister. He said the state government had approved Rs. 10 crore for a bridge in a village with a population of 200 people. The bridges and roads in this area were being developed to pave a grand entrance for the proposed site of Wildwood in Khamala village, he said.
He alleged that while farmers are not allowed to even dig a borewell because of the sanctuary, Wildwoods is being allowed to go ahead with the construction work. Kotadiya is likely to raise a question on the development projects in this area in the Budget session of the Assembly to add more dust to the storm raised by the Congress.