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Land tussle cloud on college

Ranchi, Aug. 22: Speaker of the Jharkhand Assembly, Inder Singh Namdhari, took time off last week to mediate in a land dispute.

The parties involved were a one-time Congress heavyweight, R.P. Raja, and the widow of Raja's mentor, Gyan Ranjan.

At stake is the 22-year-old Mahendra Prasad Women's College and 300 cottahs of prime land. After listening to both sides, Namdhari, typically, offered to constitute a committee to resolve the dispute.

Three acres of prime land on Circular Road, a stone's throw from the women's college, should cost today anywhere between Rs 6 crore and Rs 9 crore.

The grapevine had always maintained that the plot, belonging to Lady Ranoo Mukherjee, had been usurped by the then Congress strongman, Gyan Ranjan. The politician not only grabbed the land but he also was quick to put up a college, named after his father, and a research institute named after Jaiprakash Narayan.

Lady Ranoo Mukherjee is the widow of Sir Biren Mukherjee, industrialist, who owned, among other concerns, the Indian Iron & Steel Company at Burnpur, besides coal mines. He had built a sprawling, double-storied summer-house on the plot but which the family visited less frequently. With Sir Biren's death, it was virtually left to the caretaker, which gave an opportunity to Gyan Ranjan to take over the property and start the institutions.

It was a clever ploy. While Lady Mukherjee and her attorneys went to court, Gyan Ranjan maintained a high profile and ensured that his institutions enjoyed high visibility, stamping his presence and ownership on the minds of people. Though the ownership issue had not been settled, there was gradual acceptance that the land belonged to Gyan Ranjan.

His untimely and sudden death in 1978 apparently threw open the issue. Although his widow, Vibha Ranjan, took over the affairs of the college, she clearly had no clue about the property and the on-going litigation. She confessed as much to The Telegraph when she said that her impression was that the litigation pertained to urban land ceiling and that it was the college which was trying to get relief from the court.

She now accuses R.P. Raja, another local Congress leader-turned-contractor-turned builder, of having betrayed her trust. When the college was seeking affiliation for graduate-level courses, it was required to furnish proof that it had adequate land.

Raja, she alleges, persuaded her to produce before the university the registered deed of another plot of land so as to hasten the process of affiliation. 'On his advice and with his donation of Rs 1.5 lakh, I entered into an agreement of land purchase with one Kamal Kumar, on November 3, 2004,' she claimed.

Raja, she alleges, kept her in the dark and even claimed before a magistrate that he had sub-let a part of the building to the college. He also started spreading rumours, she says, that the college would be shifting to the Ranchi-Khunti Road.

Her husband, she claims, had taken over the land after promising Lady Mukherjee that he would ensure that it is freed from land-ceiling restrictions first. Even after his death, his colleagues like Raja kept on striving for withdrawing the ceiling, ostensibly in the interest of the college, she recalls.

Raja denies the charges and claims that his construction company, Bol Builders Pvt Ltd., had purchased the land from Lady Ranoo Mukherjee, in whose favour the high court finally ruled in May this year.

Lady Ranoo, he points out, had given a power of attorney to Alok Choudhary of Hinoo and his company had entered into an agreement with Choudhary to buy the land, a part of which is being used to put up a shopping mall.

'We have the documents to establish our ownership and there is nothing wrong in going ahead with the construction,' he maintained, denying the charge that he had grabbed the land of his one-time friend and mentor, Gyan Ranjan.

The politician-turned-builder generously offers to allot a corner to the college, with separate entrance and a wall separating it from the mall. ' I have always been interested in education,' says Raja, one of the founders of the college, 'and I would not like to cause any inconvenience to the college and the students,'

Vibha Ranjan, who is the principal, too, is, however, determined to free the plot from 'land grabbers'. 'I am mobilising the support of people. I will knock on the doors of all important people and seek the government's intervention so that the college is saved and Raja gets exposed,' she fumes.

R.P. Raja, however, flaunts a sale deed, which shows an agreement between his company and Alok Choudhary for sale of 100 cottahs of land to the former, one-third of the entire plot.

As and when necessary, he declares, he would produce other documents. His attempts to start construction has been temporarily stalled by strong resistance from the college and local residents. Namdhari's intervention has also added a twist to the tale. But Raja appears confident that he would eventually have his way.

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