Snapshot of The Wire report

A report revealed that a company co-founded by Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma has occupied around 18 acres of government land intended for landless individuals and institutions in Assam.

The Assam Kaziranga University admissions

A report published in The Wire also mentioned that land was acquired in violation of the official rules governing its possession, sale and use.

This was the revelation of a joint investigation by digital media organizations The Wire and The CrossCurrent.

The report also said that the chief minister’s son Nandil Biswa Sarma as of FY’20 owned a significant number of shares in the beneficiary company.

One-third of this land is prime real estate abutting Guwahati airport and Tech City, in Bongora, Kamrup district.

The company in question, RBS Realtors Private Limited, acquired most of the 18 acres in two stages, first in 2006-2007 and then in 2009. During that period, Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, was a director of the company, and Sarma himself was an influential minister in the erstwhile Tarun Gogoi government. The company’s other founder-director was Ranjit Bhattacharya, an associate of Sarma’s.

The Wire, in their story, said that the details of the company’s ownership of the land in question are available at ‘Dharitri’, the Assam government portal which provides a digital record of land ownership in the state.

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“The land records provide a striking contrast to the manner in which the illegal possession of land in Darrang district was handled by the state administration: a brutal police assault during an official eviction drive at Sipajhar in September led to the death of two persons, one of them a minor. Sarma subsequently defended the eviction drive. The families evicted were peasants who said they had settled in the area because their earlier plots and dwellings were lost to riverbank erosion, a common phenomenon in riverine Assam,” the report mentioned.

The story has been written by The Wire’s deputy editor Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, Arup Kalita and Gautam Pratim Gogoi.

As per the report: In 2009, a total of 11 bigha, three katha and four lessa (i.e. 3,01,674 square feet or 6.92 acres) of ceiling surplus land in Bongora intended for – and allotted to – supposedly needy individuals by the Government of Assam was bought by Sarma’s wife’s real estate development company. The sale and registration of these plots took place less than three months after their allotment to the original beneficiaries, thus violating the mandatory 10-year lock-in period as stated in the conditions under which the plots were granted by the government to those individuals.

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By the time Sarma’s wife resigned from RBS Realtors’ directorship on June 9, 2009, however, some 80% of that total ceiling surplus land had already been acquired by the company. The government’s records show that they were acquired between January 24 and 28, 2009 – when she was still a director.

Bhattacharya, the company’s second founder-director, was appointed the BJP’s Assam Kisan Morcha vice president in October 2021 and has been described as ‘HBS’s unofficial personal assistant’ by a person close to the chief minister’s family, speaking to The Wire on the condition of anonymity.

From RBS Realtors to Vashistha Realtors, a change of name

Soon after the new shareholders came in, RBS Realtors applied for a name change and re-incorporated itself as Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd. “However, the common CIN number between the two companies, as shown in Union corporate affairs ministry documents, prove that it is the same company,” the report said.

In 2017, company records show, 23.61% of the Rs 100 face value shares of Vasistha Realtors were transferred to Meena Bhuyan, mother of Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and mother-in-law of chief minister Sarma.

On September 16, 2019 – barely 18 days after Sarma’s son Nandil Biswa Sarma became an adult – Meena Bhuyan transferred her shares to him. Hence, as of FY’20, the chief minister’s son owns 23.61% of the company’s Rs 100 shares, which is equal to 15.9% of the total equity shares issued by the company. Effectively then, a major owner of the shares of Vasistha Realtors Pvt Ltd – and presumed beneficiary of the “dubiously acquired ceiling surplus government land” – is the chief minister’s son, Nandil Biswa Sarma.

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Defamation case for the report?

Commenting on the story, Guwahati-based journalist Atanu Bhuyan mentioned that the company’s “new owner” Ranjit Bhattacharya had told him about filing a defamation case against The Wire for the story.

“Just read @thewire_in’s news report against CM @himantabiswa’s wife @rinikibsharma. According to Land Policy of 1989 and Assam Land Revenue Regulation 1886, and Section 16 of Ceiling Act doesn’t restrict any sale before 10 years. The restriction came from 2019 during BJP’s government. But, CM @himantabiswa’s wife @rinikibsharma bought all the property in 2006. At that time, Revenue Commissioner CK Das issued a notice stating that no one could sale ceiling land before 10 years. But then again in 2008, High Court quashed this order. Property’s new owner Ranjit Bhattacharya told me that, on Friday they will file defamation case against @thewire_in,” the journalist said in a series of tweets.

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