Mastering the shell game, the Patanjali way

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Mastering the shell game, the Patanjali way

| Updated: November 22, 2023 19:36

Years ago, during a popular TV show, celebrated yoga guru Baba Ramdev was asked whether he dyed his pitch-back mane. “Completely natural,” he droned, leaning to show his dense shock of hair.

That’s the allure of Baba Ramdev, a known allopathy baiter, a purveyor of Ayurveda, and the marketing mind behind Patanjali. 

Controversies chase him like shadows. Patanjali, he has us believe, is the answer to every human ailment. The route to immortality. Medical practitioners were not pleased. 

But he has built a brand around his products, though people have been critical of the way he blatantly endorses Ayurveda and gets away with borderline violations.

Somehow, Baba Ramdev captures headlines. It could be through an off-the-cuff remark. His comment that women look good in saree, salwar or, in his eyes, “even if they wear nothing” stoked outrage.

His business empire isn’t above suspicion. According to The Reporters’ Collective investigation, Baba Ramdev is known as a real estate mogul in the village of Mangar in the Aravalli Range around New Delhi.

The investigation reveals that over the past ten years, several shell companies and obscure businesses associated with the Patanjali group—mostly under the control and management of Ramdev’s younger brother and close business associates—have been purchasing and selling land in Mangar, in Faridabad, Haryana.

For the unversed, shell companies conceal the real beneficiaries of the transactions to avoid paying taxes. These firms move illegally earned money through layers of transactions creating a facade of legitimacy through banking channels.

The Indian government has eliminated more than 1.2 lakh shell companies that did not file financial returns.

Those connected to the Patanjali group managed to evade the government, it has been reported widely. According to The Collective investigation, a few of these businesses associated with the Patanjali group were not involved in the production or sale of the goods they had stated they would. Rather, the Patanjali group bought sizable parcels of land in Mangar, the village in the Aravalli mountain range, using shell companies.

The money received from the sale of Mangar properties was routed back to other businesses within the Patanjali empire, allowing them to purchase additional land in other Aravalli hills regions.

During the Collective’s investigation, corporate and land records spanning more than fifteen years were searched. It assisted in tracing the ownership and financiers of a network of questionable shell corporations. Baba Ramdev expanded his empire while fervently supporting the present government’s vow to outlaw black money.

The report adds how real estate investors find Mangar and other Aravalli areas appealing. Mangar is in Faridabad, a thriving city that is part of the National Capital Region, and popular with developers. Since large swathes of Faridabad’s forestlands are exempt from conservation regulations, real estate players like the Patanjali group have a considerable advantage there.

In an attempt to acquire the forested land, businessmen have been playing cat and mouse with Mangar and the unprotected areas of the Aravallis near New Delhi over the years, the report highlighted.

Although Patanjali bought large tracts of land in Mangar even before the BJP’s ascent to power in Haryana and at the national level, records indicate that the post-2014 government has improved the group’s business prospects in the Aravalli ranges.

Recently, the Centre relaxed the protections provided by the highest court in August 2023. It modified the Forest Conservation Act, ending the forestlands in Mangar and other Aravalli districts’ legal protection, giving Baba Ramdev’s business prospects a huge boost.

Patanjali’s shell companies bought plots all over Mangar using a similar strategy. The Collective followed the flow of money into and out of one such company, Patanjali Corrupack Private Limited, from the inception and kept tabs on the purchasing and selling of land in the Mangar forests.

In the last 12 years, the company has allegedly been using funds that have been poured into the company to buy and sell properties in Mangar.

The company is not permitted to operate a real estate business, but can legally lease or purchase land to support its primary business activity of manufacturing and trading in packaging material. In this case, it only dealt with Mangar’s lands and did not conduct its primary business.

Further, the report highlights that a year after Corrupack was incorporated, its bank account started to grow exponentially. Acharya Balkrishna donated Rs 2.99 crore to the company in 2010. Another tranche of Rs 2.42 crore advance from Aarogya Herbs (India) Pvt Limited and Rs 5.6 lakh from Gangotri Ayurved Pvt Limited soon followed. The bulk of shares in the two businesses are owned by Balkrishna. In Mangar, Aarogya Herbs owned 28 acres of land.

It has emerged that a right hand man of Baba Ramdev’s right-hand man and managing director of Patanjali Ayurved Limited, Balkrishna, had given Corrupack more than Rs 5 crore. They claimed that the funds were provided as a down payment for additional shares that Corrupack intended to give to Balkrishna both directly and via his other two shell companies.

Despite allegedly contributing ‘share application money’ to Corrupack, neither Balkrishna nor these two other shell companies were able to obtain shares over time.

The report points out to The Companies Act, of 2013, which mandates that shares should be allotted within 60 days, failing which the advance must be refunded. Illegal advance under the pretext of share application attracts a penalty of up to Rs 2 crore.

The shares in Corrupack’s case, the article mentions, were never delivered. The funds for the share application were moved to the other current liabilities section.

The business also received a few unsecured loans from other Patanjali empire companies, essentially loans made without any kind of security. Cheneena Impex Pvt Ltd, Prarekha Exim Pvt Ltd, and Smitasha Impex Pvt Ltd each gave it Rs 6 lakh.

The report said that Patanjali Corrupack has admitted that these companies are related parties in which “key management personnel or their relatives can exercise significant influence”.

According to the most recent corporate filings, the report outlined, these businesses are shareholders of Aastha Broadcasting Network Limited, the company that operates Ramdev’s Aastha channel. 

Armed with funds from the Patanjali network, Corrupak ventured into the real estate industry. Plots in Mangar that were owned by the company increased from 59.74 acres to 70.92 acres in less than a year. Records indicate that a total of Rs 4.9 crore was paid for these purchases.

Corrupack continued to receive a steady stream of funding from other Patanjali organisations, such as Patanjali Food and Herbal Park, Devam Ayurved and Divya Yog Mandir Trust, Patanjali Parivahan, and Green Apple Security Systems. Certain company documents clearly indicate that the funds were given to Corrupack for land purchases, not for any business ventures.

The company had received Rs 6.74 crore in total as advances and “application money for shares” by the end of the fiscal year 2011.

The business started selling its land in the following fiscal year. Records show that it made Rs 15.16 crore and repaid the three companies’ unsecured loans. 

Cracking the shell game, Corrupack made advances totalling Rs 8.8 crore to five entities and obtained an additional unsecured loan of Rs one crore from ABC Global Pvt Limited. Among them was a business called Gaurisuta Building Solutions Pvt Limited, another entity under the Patanjali corporate empire that deals in Mangar land, The Collective investigation revealed. 

Over time, Corrupack would put the money it made from land deals—which were based on suspicious advances—into other Patanjali Group businesses.

About six years ago, Patanjali challenged anyone to find anything questionable in its land dealings.

The way media houses have reported its deals, it shouldn’t be long before the group’s challenge fizzles out.

Also Read: Gujarat HC Rejects Bail for Man Involved in Passport Forgery, Illegal Trafficking

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