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Land, sale and dhoka

 

Gujarat farmers fall prey to land scams as prices hit the roof.
ARNOLD CHRISTIE | Issue Dated: March 6, 2011
Tags : gujarat | farmers | land scam | prices land | special investigaing team | vibrant gujarat | farmers suicide | comsume pesticides |
 

On February 14, while the whole world was celebrating the day of love, a farmer's family in Kundal village of Sanand taluka was faced with unforeseen tragedy. Five members of the family attempted suicides by consuming pesticide in front of a land dealer’s residence in Dodar village of Ahmedabad district. In the suicide note, the family alleged that the land dealer, a relative of theirs and an advocate, Vikram Solanki, had duped them of their 15 bigha farm land worth over Rs 5 crore. The suicide exposed the ugly face of land grabbing, rampant in parts of a Vibrant Gujarat.

The 70-year-old head of a farming family, Mansinh Ramu Sandhav of Kundal village owns 28 bighas of ancestral farmland worth Rs 10 crore on the outskirts of Dodar village. The family came to know about the fraud in January when it sought land records to secure a loan. Mansinh's son-in-law Arjan says, “We never wanted to sell our ancestral land. The land dealer and others forged the documents and got them stamped by the Mamlatdar (Taluka Development Officer). Our original documents are also lying with the Mamlatdar but he still accepted the forged documents. The Mamlatdar told us that our land was sold off in July, 2010.”

This is not a stray case. With land prices skyrocketing across the state, land-related scams have also risen manifold. As many as 205 cases of forgery, cheating or dual sale of land have been recorded with the Ahmedabad rural police alone. Of this, 81 were recorded in January, 2011. After the Tata Group started setting up its Nano plant in Sanand in 2008, this rural segment of Ahmedabad district and some other parts of Gujarat have seen land prices going through the roof. This has attracted many players and investors. Dishonest people have joined the game too, land-related offences have become rampant. Sources in the Sanand police told TSI that there was hardly a village on the Sanand-Nal Sarovar Road which didn’t witness a land scam. “In Sanand town itself, there have been 67 cases of land grabbing,” claims an advocate who practises in Sanand.

After much hue and cry, the Gujarat government finally set up a special investigating team (SIT) in December, 2010, to probe these cases on a priority basis. Superintendent of Police, Ahmedabad district, Sandip Singh says, “For the past few years, there has been a drastic rise in land prices in Gujarat, specially the adjoining areas of Ahmedabad city. Instances of land fraud and cheating are also on rise. The number of land disputes are also significantly higher here as compared to other areas of the state. Hence, we decided to form the SIT.”

As the SIT goes about its task, land grabbing has continued unabated. DSP and SIT member M. M. Malaik tells TSI, “The victims are mostly farmers and in some cases, even builders. We are trying to make people aware about the modus operandi of the fraudsters. We are issuing caution notices in the media. We have ordered every police station to visit every village under their jurisdiction and to ask people to report cases of cheating or fraud in land deals. We have prepared a guideline which spells out the precautions to be taken before making any land deal. People are coming forward with their complaints and we are investigating them.”

According to sources, there are four major ways the scam operates. The fraudsters prepare fake stamp papers and whenever a new project is under development or land is being sold, they raise legal objections. They make fake deals of ownership of land on those papers and extort money from the victims. In the first week of February, Sarkhej (Ahmedabad district) Police arrested Hiren Parmar, resident of Ghatlodia of Ahmedabad city, after a complaint from Kalpesh Patel, managing director of Godrej Garden City. Hiren faces allegation of forging land documents and using them to extort money. The investigating officer of the case, M. M. Jhala, of Sarkhej police station says, “Upon realising that this was a huge project, Hiren demanded Rs 5 crore from Kalpesh and threatened him of legal consequences. Kalpesh lodged a complaint and police recovered 416 stamp papers and various other documents needed for legal matters from Hiren's house.” Hiren was targeting builders.

The biggest case in Sanand was a land fraud of 300 bighas in Kalana village. Victim Manoj Dave of Ahmedabad wanted to put up an international textile machinery exhibition. As per police, Dave was duped by Rasik Patel and four others. The fraudsters forged banakhat (temporary agreement) and had faked signatures of farmers. Police says, “The accused prepared fake documents detailing transfer of the property in the name of Dave’s friend. Dave’s company paid Rs 4 crore to finish the paper work.” In this case, neither the accused nor the victim knew who the actual owners were.

Farmers or land owners themselves sell off land to more than one party. Recently, the Ahmedabad district police received complaints from Dalit farmers against Shantilal Vadlani, a district panchayat member and son of former Congress MLA Premji Vadlani. He was arrested following a complaint from farmer Dilip Patel of Junagadh, who had bought 80 bighas of land from Vadlani in 2008 for Rs 26 lakh. But the land was actually sold in 2007 by Vadlani to one Jitu Patel from Gandhinagar. Sandeep Singh says, “Former bank loan officer Shantilal has confessed that he duped two persons by selling the same land twice. He is also wanted in another land duping case at Viramgam where he had reportedly prepared fake documents in the name of some deceased farmers and grabbed their land. He is also accused of threatening victims and putting pressure on people to prevent them from cooperating with the investigation.”

Some of them even claim later that the buyer forged papers and grabbed the land. Hitendrasinh Jhala, a resident of Naranpura area of Ahmedabad city, has lodged a complaint with Sanand police in this regard. He said that he had struck a land deal with one Vasram Patel of Chekhla village. Jhala says, “I struck a deal with Vasram Patel and paid Rs 10 lakh for land valued at nearly Rs 15 crore. But Vasram sold the land to one Naresh Patel from Chekhla and did not return the money too.”

Farmers in the area are mostly illiterate and are not aware of the ways of fraudsters. Kanubhai Ambala Vanand owns two bighas of land in Kanbha village. In 2009, one Mukesh Mali befriended him, took him to a liquor party and got him intoxicated. Kanubhai was then beaten up and Mukesh took his thumb impression on blank paper. Kanubhai lodged an FIR with the Kanbha police station.

In Goraj village, one Thakor family was duped by some Bharwads by preparing fake documents of sale and forged thumb prints. Bhupatsinh Vaghrola, a farmer from Devti village of Sanand, complained to police that two other farmers from Kaneti village had grabbed his land by preparing fake documents.

On February 21, 2011, while Australia was playing Zimbabwe at the Motera, Jabbardan Keshavdan Gadhavi, a poor farmer of Lodrani village of Rapar taluka, set himself on fire in front of the Mamlatdar (TDO) office in Rapar town of Kutch. Jabbardan inherited some ancestral farm lands in Davri and Lodrani villages. He had heard that some people were selling land without the permission of owners. So he sought information on his land under RTI. After failing to get the same, he complained against the Rapar Mamlatdar and the Davri village Talati. Talatis in Gujarat maintain village revenue records. From January 24, he started a fast in Rapar. He ended it upon receiving assurances from the Mamlatdar. But the information was not given. He threatened self-immolation and sent notices to all higher authorities.

Jabbardan died in front of the Mamlatdar office in Rapar. He was suffering severe pain but nobody approached to help him. Police has since registered a case against Rapar Mamlatdar Aniruddhsinh Jhala and Talati of Davri village, Pravina Yadav.

Gujarat is proud of its industrialisation but seems to have been caught napping in combating this nuisance that has come along.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017