Land grab twist to Art of Living extortion calls
Bangalore: The reported extortion calls to Art of Living (AoL) of spiritual teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Wednesday turned into a land grab issue with a don-turned-journalist accusing the group of lodging a false case to silence him. The accusation has been firmly denied by the foundation.
Sridhar, who publishes a Kannada tabloid `Agni` (fire) and has written a book about his days as don in Bangalore, lodged a complaint against the group at the Kumaraswamy Layout police station saying he was being falsely accused of making extortion calls.
"I met Ravi Shankar at his ashram (complex) June 18 to persuade Art of Living to settle a land issue. It was a cordial talk. There was no threat or any such thing," Sridhar told reporters, a day after the group said it was getting calls to pay up Rs.42 crore, failing which it would be defamed.
Sridhar said he learnt from someone in the AoL that while his name had not been mentioned in the complaint to the Ramanagara police, his telephone numbers had been given.
"After seeing the news about extortion calls Wednesday, I decided to take the matter to the police so that the truth will come out," Sridhar said.
The AoL late Wednesday refuted allegations made by Sridhar and asserted that it legally purchased the land from its owner and registered it.
"Allegations made by Sridhar are baseless and fictitious. Contrary to his claim, the land was registered by us after it was legally purchased from its owner Vijay Feb 5, 2007," the AoL said in a statement here.
"Sridhar visited our ashram with a proposal to initiate joint social development projects with us and other Dalit organisations known to him. When our faculty members visited him later, instead of discussing the projects, he threatened to malign our organisation by making false allegations," the statement said.
The AoL lodged a complaint Tuesday with Talagattapura police station in Ramanagara district against some unidentified men for making the extortion calls to its senior teachers and threatening to defame the organisation if the amount was not paid.
AoL also clarified that it had no association with Paul Fernandes, a realtor who claimed that 15 acres of his land had been taken over by the foundation`s ashram about 20 km away from Bangalore city centre.
Sridhar, however, maintained he met Ravi Shankar as his help was sought by Fernandes.
Fernandes told reporters he had purchased the land, adjacent to the AoL complex on the basis of power of attorney about 12 years back from a farmer. The farmer died before executing the absolute sale dead.
Fernandes said he came to know after the farmer`s death that the land had been pledged to a cooperative society in the area, from which AoL acquired the land.
Fernandes said he had spent over Rs. 10 million on the land and had approached AoL several times seeking either return of the land or fair compensation.
Since he did not get any relief, he approached Sridhar to mediate.
Ravi Shankar founded AoL about two decades ago. It is engaged in stress-management and social-religious services.
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