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Tussle over yoga land

Shimla, Feb. 23: Ramdev and Himachal Pradesh’s Congress government appear headed for a showdown over the cancellation of land allotted by the previous BJP administration for a yoga centre, with the televangelist’s aides threatening legal action.

The authorities yesterday took control of the 38 acres where a two-storey structure housing a hospital and yoga centre have come up. The BJP promised Ramdev support.

Set up by his Patanjali Yogpeeth at a cost of Rs 10 crore, the facility is scheduled to be inaugurated on February 27 by the televangelist. A notice has been sent to Patanjali and police deployed at the site in Solan, around 50km from Shimla, officials said.

“We have taken possession of the land as it belongs to the government. Ramdev cannot carry out any activity there. The allotment has been cancelled on the basis of shortcomings in the lease deed. The land did not fall under the common village pool and the power of attorney of this land was also an issue,” state revenue minister Kaul Singh Thakur said.

Chief secretary Sudript Roy said Ramdev was welcome to the state but “appealed” to him to cancel the inauguration. “We hope there will be no law and order issues.”

The BJP, whose leader Prem Kumar Dhumal headed the last government that made the allotment, called for a rethink. Party vice-president Shanta Kumar wrote to chief minister Virbhadra Singh requesting him to review the cancellation.

“Swami Ramdev is a respected yoga teacher. The proposed herb centre and other initiatives announced by him will benefit locals. The chief minister should give a second thought to the government’s decision to cancel the land lease,” Kumar, a former chief minister, said.

Ramdev aide Balkrishna, who had signed the land deed, has suggested the inauguration was on course.

“The centre will be inaugurated on February 27 and both me and Baba Ramdev will attend. We will take legal recourse to challenge the cancellation.”

Sources said over 3,000 Ramdev supporters and locals, many of them BJP activists, were expected at the event. The fears of a showdown with the authorities came amid rumours, denied by the government, that Ramdev had been barred from entering the state.

A key ground for rescinding the allotment was that the BJP government had charged Patanjali Rs 16 lakh, much less than the market price of around Rs 40 crore. Questions were also raised about a lease clause under which Patanjali was to pay the government only Re 1 daily for 99 years.

A third reason was Balkrishna himself. The Ramdev aide hails from Nepal and foreigners can’t buy land in India.

But the deal’s scrapping seems to have hit not just Ramdev. Sources said some politicians invested crores in purchasing land close to the centre, hoping to set up hotels and an ayurvedic college in anticipation of a boom fuelled by the televangelist’s facility. Those plans have now gone awry.