The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wanted: new adviser, not farmer tag
- Like other stars, Bachchan should have gone to Rajasthan instead of UP

Pale (Maval), June 11: Amitabh Bachchan should have gone plot-hunting in Rajasthan rather than Barabanki to safeguard his land purchase in Pune’s Maval.

Maharashtra law allows one to buy farmland either if one is an Indian farmer or if one owns agriculture land elsewhere in the country, Maval subdivisional officer Bhanudas Gaekwad has clarified to The Telegraph.

Officials confirmed that most other actors or industrialists who have bought farmland in Maval, a taluka in Pune district, took the Rajasthan route. They bought agriculture land in the northwestern state, where one doesn’t have to be a farmer to buy such land, and on the strength of that purchase bought their plot in Maval.

“They did not try to prove themselves farmers as Bachchan did — with one or two exceptions who may actually be from farming families,” an official said.

But Bachchan decided to buy land in Uttar Pradesh, where friends and advisers like Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav used to call the shots. In Uttar Pradesh, however, like in Maharashtra, only a farmer can buy farmland. Worse, Bachchan chose a Gram Samaj plot, which can be bought only by a local villager and only if he is a “common man” or from a Scheduled Caste.

“So, he had to adopt other means. Now that a court has ruled he used forged documents, he is in trouble,” a local lawyer said.

That judgment by the Faizabad additional commissioner’s court has been stayed by Allahabad High Court, which has admitted the actor’s appeal against it. If Bachchan loses the case, he will have his Maval land confiscated by the Pune authorities.

Picture perfect

One look at the 21.5-acre plot, hugged by the river Pavna on three sides and offering a picturesque view of the hills on the other, is enough to realise its allure.

Bachchan had bought the plot -- about half of it in son Abhishek’s name (see chart) – at just over Rs 2 crore from a Surat-based yarn exporter, Laxmi Prasad Singhania, whose business went under in 1991-92.

Residents said the actor made it a point to drive down to the village, Pale, every Sunday whenever he was in Mumbai.

“He always came in a convoy of 13 to 15 cars. I suppose they were his security personnel,” said Vaman Rambhao Mohite. “He came and inspected the plot and spoke to some local people whom he had hired as labourers.”

“We built the boundary wall running round the plot,” said a proud Haridas Singh. “We were paid about Rs 50 per day. Now it’s complete.”

Bachchan started building his farmhouse seven years ago, starting with a small, white marble structure, but it was demolished by some villagers claiming the land belonged to a local farmer, Dyaneshwar Namdeo Ghule.

Ghule is now away and villagers were tight-lipped about the case, pending in Vadgaon court, in which five people had been taken into custody. Bachchan never resumed construction.

Few of the showbiz stars who have bought land in Pale – like Aamir Khan (13 acres) or Sonu Nigam (10 acres) -- have begun construction, except Dharmendra. But the skyline is dominated by two-storey bungalows, owned by industrialists, overlooking the Pavna dam.

They have huge verandahs, gardens and sprawling backyards. Some have huge pillars and high ceilings.

Their splendour contrasts with the staid stone houses of the villagers who helped build these mansions. The well-to-do among the farmers have small bungalows, too -- one-storey structures painted gaily in pink and earth colours.

It’s an ideal location for a weekend getaway or retirement home, just a couple of hours’ drive from Mumbai. One bonus is that ownership of agriculture land brings tax benefits.

‘Farmer’ Dharam

Dharmendra, who has a bungalow and a stable on his 100-hectare (250-acre) plot, often drives down with son Sunny Deol. The farmers see him as one of them because of his Jat antecedents.

“He’s a farmer, too. When he has labourers working for him inside the bungalow, he even has his food with them,” said a villager whom Dharam had employed as a labourer.

For many villagers, working for the screen idols and getting to see them at close quarters is something to boast about.

“I helped build Bachchanji’s boundary wall. I worked on Dharmendra’s house, too. They come in big cars and Bachchanji himself distributes money among the labourers. When he comes here, all the youngsters run towards his car,” Mohite said.

The Walchand Group that owns CEAT has a huge bungalow on a 20-acre plot just overlooking the Bachchans’ land. Chirag Doshi, a member of the family, is very close to Abhishek and is said to have known about his relationship with Aishwarya from the outset.

Diamond merchant Tirupat Pankaj Kothari has built a farmhouse on a 10-acre plot near that of the Doshis. Bachchan’s elder brother Ajitabh, who owns 12 acres in Maval, is believed to have been the one to persuade the actor to buy a plot here.

As the Bachchan controversy turns the spotlight on the other celebs, Aamir has publicly tried to make the point that he comes from a farming family.

“These celebs should be safe, having bought farmland in Rajasthan, unless they too are caught with questionable documents,” a local lawyer said. “But it’s physically impossible to authenticate each of these claims.”

The SDO agrees. “At this point it’s not necessary to look into the properties of all those who have bought land here,” Gaekwad said.

“Before the land is allotted, all the documents are thoroughly checked. We will only investigate a case when we have a complaint.”

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