Anjali Damania may have jumped into the spotlight with her allegations of corruption in Maharashtra irrigation projects and sweetheart deals between the state government and BJP president Nitin Gadkari, but questions over her own land deals have been raised as well.
Two farmers from whom Damania bought land have claimed that she had bought the seven acres of land in 2007 claiming she would use it for agriculture, but then later in 2011 sold it to private individuals after the land was converted for use for activities other than agriculture, the Indian Express reported today.
The land which was bought by Damania made way for a project for private villas that were created by a company in which Damania was a director and out of 39 plots created, 37 were sold till August 2011, according to the report.
However, Damania has refuted the allegation that she was involved in anything illegal and is quoted as saying in the Indian Express report: "I can produce all the required papers to prove that everything was done legally. If someone thinks this is wrong, the problem then actually lies with the government’s policy in changing the land-use from agricultural to non-agricultural. I am being targeted now because I raised my voice against a corrupt system.”
The BJP has also released a letter which Damania wrote to authorities in 2011 asking them to consider the change in the alignment of a dam that would submerge her property nearby and alleged that she had targeted Gadkari over the issue.
In a letter written to the Irrigation department in June 2011, Damania requested that the alignment of the Kondhane dam be shifted so that her property was not submerged due to it.
Pointing out that her entire life savings were used for the land, Damania wrote that if the dam were to be shifted by 700 metres only tribals would be hit by the project and they would be adequately compensated, unlike her.
The state government has also said that it was during investigations for land acquisition for the dam that they found that Damania and her partners who held the land were not farmers by livelihood and therefore confiscated the land.
"However, they failed to produce any convincing documents in the stipulated time...Therefore, we confiscated their entire land, and put the government as the owner of the land,” Tehsildar of Raigad district Jaysingh Girase was quoted as saying in a DNA report.
While Damania may be guilty of acquiring land and then using it to make a hefty profit, it however has little to do with the accusations that she has leveled against the Maharashtra government and Gadkari.
The allegations against Gadkari pertain to the Vidarbha region of the state which is nowhere close to where Damania's property is located and the allegations against the irrigation department, that was headed by Ajit Pawar, are pertaining to dams that are in the same region but had no impact on her personal land holdings.
With dams in the state, Damania has pointed out that the cost of one dam rose from Rs 640 crore to Rs 1400 crore after allocation of work and with other dams there were similar spikes in the cost soon after the projects were allocated.
Perhaps Damania's decision to target the political system and the administration that allowed their costs to spiral was motivated. Perhaps it was due to a massive financial loss that she's involved in it and wants to get back at the political leaders involved in it. However, it does not dilute the fact that the issues raised by her continue to be pertinent. The facts came through RTI applications and are undoubtable.
While it may be debatable whether BJP president Nitin Gadkari is guilty of impropriety or corruption while obtaining irrigation water for factories, that the issue has been raised is a welcome one. Let there be investigations into whether Damania has indulged in anything that was illegal, but letting off the others merely because her intentions were biased would be a folly. But one thing's for sure, Damania had better stock up on soap. The raking of muck at her has perhaps only just begun.