Past land deals have returned to haunt the public trust run by Asaram Bapu at Kelgaon near Alandi after 20 people alleged they were duped. Shree Hari Om Seva Sanstha has been accused of failing to allot 2,500 sq ft plots near Alandi to them. The group alleged they paid around Rs 70,000 in advance for each plot in 2006.
Vilas Kadus said he had approached trustees with a request to resolve the issue several times but they never responded. “My family had booked three plots with Asaram’s trust. The trustees were contacted for the deal, who said around 500 followers would be allotted plots that need to be developed as per the trust’s guidelines. I was allotted plot numbers 358, 359 and 360, where I even erected fencing and dug a borewell. After a few months, when we approached the trust for claiming land documents, they refused to give us the marked plots,” he said.
Umesh Kamble, another affected person, said trustees had been forcing him to take back the original amount but without paying any interest. “In the past five years, the real estate sector in and around Pune has witnessed a boom, with prices of land increasing manifold. We would have invested our money by purchasing some other land if Asaram’s trust had not floated the scheme. We have been running from pillar to post to get justice but to no avail,” he said.
While a majority of people — reportedly ardent followers of the godman — who had opted for the land scheme agreed to take their advance payment back, a small group is fighting against the “injustice” done to them.
Asaram’s ashram is located close to the plots that were to be sold. The buyers alleged the money generated out of their advance payments was used for development of the ashram.
The group members claimed they had submitted a written complaint to Pune Police Commissioner last January, but no action has been taken yet. A senior officer of Samartha police station, under whose jurisdiction the Sanstha’s registered office in Somwar Peth falls, said no offence had been registered against the trust so far.
“Asaram’s men have been forcing us to take the money back. They openly tell us that neither the police nor any government agency can take action against them as they have the backing of powerful politicians, who are followers of Asaram. We are clueless whom to approach now,” said Kadus.
The governing body of the Sanstha stands dissolved at present. CV Chaudhary, who recently stepped down from the post of the Trust president, said the Sanstha had failed to acquire around 80 acres of land, which affected the scheme of selling plots to devotees. “We could only purchase around 45 acres from the owner. Hence, the scheme flopped,” he said, adding that measures were on to resolve issues faced by aggrieved people. Chaudhary maintained that the trust’s decision to scrap the scheme has not gone down well with most of the affected devotees, but only a “handful” are still complaining of financial losses.
Anoop Awasthi of advocacy group Pune Legal Rights Society, which has been following the issue, said a criminal suit will be filed against Asaram and his employees if the aggrieved individuals are not compensated properly.