The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Probe into Iskcon hand in land deals

Krishnagar, Nov. 11: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has initiated an inquiry into the acquiring of vast tracts of land by about 20 private trusts of Mayapur, Nadia, allegedly linked to Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness).

Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Molla, who visited Mayapur, about 100 km from Calcutta, today said he started the probe after being asked by the chief minister to do so.

The minister was shown by officials of his department plots purchased by several trusts in the Bamunpukur panchayat area. He said he had asked district officials to furnish details about the land bought by the trusts and their relations with Iskcon.

The trusts are believed to have purchased about 500 acres, said land and land reforms officials.

Iskcon said it had not violated any law. 'Let the government carry out an impartial inquiry. If it finds out that we had acquired land illegally, we are ready to face action,' said Ramesh Das, its chief public relations manager.

Molla refused to comment on the amount of land acquired by Iskcon. 'I have been entrusted with this investigation by the chief minister and I will send a report to him in a month. Officials of the land and land reforms department here have been asked to complete their probe fast,' he said.

The purchase of large plots by the various trusts came to the government's notice when the Iskcon authorities sought about 30 acres to set up a Vedic Planetarium, financed by devotee Alfred Ford, a centre to manufacture artificial limbs for the physically challenged and a theme park.

Iskcon, which has centres across the world, has a temple complex in Mayapur.

'While considering these proposals, we came to know that hundreds of acres in Mayapur had been purchased by some private trusts, which might have links with the Iskcon authorities. Stumbling on the information, we reported the matter to the chief minister, who asked me to carry out a thorough probe,' Molla said.

According to the land ceiling act, a person or an organisation cannot possess over 25 acres of land. 'If Iskcon is found to have links or association with these trusts, it would amount to violation of the land ceiling act,' the minister said.

Molla, who kicked up a controversy recently by voicing dissent against the government's allotment of agricultural land to the Salim Group for its project in South 24-Parganas, today evaded questions on whether Iskcon had violated the land ceiling law. 'I will not comment any further. An embargo has been imposed on me. After I compile my report, I will submit it to the chief minister and it is up to him to make a decision,' he said.

However, the minister also said: 'The allegations cannot be all baseless.'

Ramesh Das said Iskcon would publish figures on the land it owns in a day or two.

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