Thursday, February 11, 2010

Her Excellencys husband a land grabber

NEW DELHI: In a major embarrassment to President Pratibha Patil, her husband Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat has been asked to return over two acres he grabbed from a poor Dalit farmer in Amravati of Maharashtra.

The farmer, Kishore Bansod, had last year found that most of his land had been transferred to Mr Shekhawat in the government records. The President’s spouse was accused of forging papers to grab 2.5 acres near the highway in Chandrapur two years ago. The farmer went to court in June, 2009. The Daryapur court gave its verdict in the case in December stating that the land belonged to Kishore Madhav Bansod and not Mr Shekhawat and that it be returned to the farmer. However, Mr Bansod got the copy of the judgement only earlier this week.

The President’s husband took the help of local revenue officers. An inquiry by local officials revealed that five others — all his relatives — colluded with him.

Though the Rashtrapati Bhavan has refrained from commenting saying that the President’s husband is a private citizen and enjoys no special privileges, the allegations against him are bound to haunt the President.

Following the farmer’s complaint last year, SDM Ashok Amankar had issued notices to Shekhawat and seven others, including his nephew Bhanwarsingh Lalsingh Shekhawat and brothers Kishorsingh, Omsingh and Raghusingh. The then revenue inspector was also served a notice.

The farmer had said that officials who went for land measurements had told him that his land was in the name of the Shekhawat family. The three-acre farm was purchased by his father Mahadevrao in 1985-86 from a Bapurao Chaudhary, he had said. Mr Shekawat is a member of the Congress and has also served as the Mayor of Amravati. This is not the first time that the President’s family has come under a cloud over financial dealings.

Controversies dogged Ms Patil and her family from the time she was nominated as a presidential candidate. BJP, which had launched a high-voltage campaign against her, alleged that a sugar factory owned by her owed huge sums of money to a co-operative bank.

Besides this, she was accused of promoting her son during announcement of the candidates for the Maharashtra assembly elections and transferring funds worth Rs 36 lakh from her MPLADS to an organisation run by her husband.

In 1973, she had set up a co-operative bank named Pratibha Mahila Shahkari Bank to empower women but its license of the bank was revoked in 2003 by the RBI over alleged financial irregularities. According to reports, one of the reasons listed by RBI for cancellation of the license was the faulty loan policy of the bank and waivers on loan interests given, among others, to Ms Patil’s relatives.

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