By Jaideep Sarin
Barwala (Haryana), Nov 24 (IANS) Just before his run-in with the law that landed him behind bars with serious charges such as murder, sedition and other cases slapped on him, self-styled godman Rampal had embarked on well-thought plans for expansion of his sect.
Police and district authorities are now probing the sources of funding of the controversial sect leader which helped him to execute his expansion plans.
Though officials are tight-lipped about the actual scale of Rampal’s ambitious plans, there are indications that the godman was investing roughly between Rs.100 and 150 crore.
Seeing the growing popularity of his sect and the increasing number of followers, Rampal and his key aides felt the area of the 12-acre Satlok Ashram complex near Barwala in Haryana’s Hisar district was inadequate.
Sources in the district administration told IANS that Rampal and his aides had already scouted for over 50 acres of land at one location and another 10 acres at two nearby locations to set up a bigger and more lavish ashram complex.
The sources said that Rampal’s aides had worked out the price deal with villagers, close to the location of the present Satlok Ashram, to buy nearly 52 acres land.
“He had worked out the land deal for nearly 52 acres land and was planning to get the registry done after Nov 15. Some initial amount had even been paid to the land owners. However, the controversy about him erupted and the deal did not materialise. He had settled for the deal at almost double the market rates,” Shyam Lal, a villager, told IANS.
Police officials involved in the investigation about the activities of Rampal and his aides also said that the sect leader wanted his sect to grow big not only in Haryana but also in other states.
Rampal was building another ashram in Betul district in south Madhya Pradesh. Spread in an area of nearly 70 acres, this ashram was to have a super-structure to house nearly 50,000 followers. The ashram was being developed with lavish plans, including setting up of two lakes.
Rampal’s followers came from states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and others.
Rampal started big time with his first Satlok Ashram at Karontha in Haryana’s Rohtak district. He was forced to vacate the Karontha ashram after a big controversy with Arya Samaj followers in 2006 led to violence and even deaths.
He then moved to the present location where he set up the Satlok Ashram near Barwala, 210 km from Chandigarh.
The junior engineer-turned-godman’s lavish lifestyle chapters are unfolding now with the Haryana Police searching every part of his Barwala ashram. The police have found that Rampal had built a well fortified complex for himself without even bothering to take the necessary permission from the authorities concerned for change of land use (CLU) to convert agricultural land into the ashram complex.
The ongoing search at Rampal’s Barwala ashram has revealed that he used a bullet-proof enclosure for giving sermons, had a bullet-proof SUV for his use, had a personal swimming pool, lived in air-conditioned comfort, including ACs even in his bathrooms, had flat-screen LED TVs, gym equipment, massage beds as well as other luxuries lined up for him.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )