Lanco vs Wakf: Facts & Politics

Rajagopal: More sinned against than sinning?

Did Lanco Infratech grab the 100 acres of land at Manikonda on which it is building SEZ and residential property? Ponnam Prabhakar, Congress MP from Karimnagar, who has a running feud with L Rajagopal, founder-chairman of the company, is the latest to reiterate the accusation.

In the aftermath of AP High Court directive that the land allotted by APIIC to various companies at Manikonda belonged to the Wakf Board, many politicians pounced upon Rajagopal demanding that he return the land ‘grabbed’ by him. They saw in the court outcome a vindication of their allegation that Andhra capitalists – the most prominent of them being Rajagopal – plundered lands in Telangana, more sinister in this instance because it belonged to the Muslims.

The facts of the case, however, are slightly at variance with this received wisdom. Rajagopal might have committed many sins, but this one is certainly not one of them.

Lanco subsidiary company, Lanco Hills Technology Park Pvt Ltd (LHTPPL) did not ‘grab’ the 100 acres of land in Manikonda. It bought the land in a public auction under competitive bidding route. In fact, most of the other IT companies in the area including Microsoft and Infosys were allotted land by APIIC.

The cost of acquiring land from APIIC for the project was Rs. 42.7 million (4.27 crore) per acre. That means Lanco paid a whopping Rs 427 crore for acquiring the land in the year 2006. That was quite an amount to pay in those days,  and there was in fact criticism that because Lanco paid high premium for the land, the prices soared to unreasonable levels in and around Manikonda.

The project was to have completed as far back as in 2010, but as is well-known it is stuck in the middle of nowhere even in 2012. The recession, Telangana agitation and the Wakf dispute have taken their toll on the project.

In this backdrop, how could anyone say that Lanco or Rajagopal grabbed the land? Another 1500 acres were allotted to different companies besides Lanco from the same land parcel under litigation, and none of them seems to have received the same treatment from critics of land alienation.

More importantly, the issue over the land in Manikonda is between the Government of Andhra Pradesh and Wakf Board. The government had earlier rejected the claims of Wakf Board, and went ahead with allotting or auctioning land to different companies. If it is now established that the land does belong to Wakf, then it is for the government to resolve the issue because the companies invested their money for this land.

The government said as much when Ponnala Laxmaiah, Minister for Information Technology and Communications (IT&C), clarified,” “There’s no need for the IT industry to worry. The Congress government has done all the dealing as per the law. If anything arises, it will be between Wakf Board and the State government. We’ll resolve the problem amicably with Wakf Board if at all any issue is there.”

It is evident from the above statement from the Minister concerned that the companies and more so Lanco, have never been in the wrong on this one.

In this backdrop, how could anyone, including MPs and MLAs, make demands based on pure lies? Is everything fair in war and politics?