Anjali Damania, one of the principal campaigners in the multi-crore irrigation scam in Maharashtra, bought a large tract of farmland in Karjat taluka, claiming to be a farmer, but the land has been confiscated by the local authority after verification revealed that she is not engaged in farming.
According to information available with DNA, in 2007, Damania together with her partners Switu Mehta and Vanita Ahluwalia bought about 60 acres of land in Kondivade village, from a tribal, and registered the property in her name after producing a 7/12 certificate from the nearby Kalse village to show that she is engaged in farming.
They paid a rate varying from Rs80,000 to Rs5 lakh an acre to Anil Gogate, the tribal farmer, for the land which is located on the bank of the Ulhas river.
“When they bought the land, they told us that they wanted to set up an agri business that would also employ some local people. So we were more than happy,” says Gogate. “But within a short time, they started constructing houses on the land and began selling them off. We felt bad that the land was being used for commercial purposes without any jobs for local people.”
Around this time, the state government approved a Rs435 crore project to construct a dam on the river in Kondivade. For this, it planned to acquire 410 hectares in the area, including the plot owned by Damania.
Damania resisted the government's plan to acquire land and challenged the project, raising questions on the cost involved. In a letter to the irrigation department dated 10 June 2011, Damania said that the dam alignment be changed 500-700 metres.
“...So, it will give us back our life and save the approach to the cave. Government can have survey of this place, beyond 700 meters, and there is no private land. It will only be adivasi land and we are sure they are adequately compensated,” she wrote in her letter, a copy of which is with DNA.
The tehsildar of Karjat (Raigad district), Jaysingh Girase, said that it was during verification process of the ownership of the land to be acquired from people who would be affected by the dam project, that they found out Damania and her partners had not proper certificate to prove that they were farmers.
“As a result, the earlier transactions were declared illegal under the law and we sent them a notice to prove they are farmers. However, they failed to produce any convincing documents in the stipulated time,” the tehsildar said. “Therefore, we confiscated their entire land, and put the government as the owner of the land.”
DNA has the copies of the notice the authority sent Damania and the subsequent change in the land record naming the government as owner.
The tehsildar explained that it is not sufficient to produce a 7/12 certificate to prove one's involvement in farming activity. “We also check the person's livelihood, whether s/he is dependent on the agricultural land or not, the sources of income, and the land use. Taking all these factors into account, we evaluate whether the person is a farmer. If s/he fails to fulfil the requirements, the person is disqualified under section 84(c) of the Mumbai Tenancy and Agriculture Act 1948.”
When DNA contacted Damania over the phone, she confirmed that the government had confiscated her land. “I have been fighting against the corruption in irrigation projects, therefore, the government has confiscated my land at Kondivade,” she said.