Radhakrishnan Nair (name changed), an NRI from Bangalore residing in the US, recently purchased a site at Ramamurthy Nagar for Rs40 lakh to build a house after his retirement.
But within a month he received a call from his friends in Bangalore informing him that someone had encroached upon his site and fenced it. A worried Nair rushed to Bangalore to find that the site had indeed been encroached upon. With great difficulty, he managed to contact the people who claimed the site’s ownership.
They told him the site belonged to them and even showed some documents to prove their claim.
But the documents were found to be fake since the name entered as the first-party, shown as the seller, was wrong. The people who showed Nair the documents admitted the discrepancy, but demanded `6 lakh as settlement money for returning the site to Nair and assured him full protection from other encroachers.
“They told me that I can go to court, but will have to spend a huge sum of money and many years to get back my site,” Nair said.
“They said police won’t be able to help me since this is a civil dispute. Since I did not have the time and energy (to fight a court case), I agreed to their demands and paid them money. Since then, I have had no problem as the encroachers have become the protectors of my property.”
Nair’s case typically demonstrates how the land mafia functions in Bangalore. The much sought-after outlying areas - like Ramamurthy Nagar, Devanahalli, Doddaballabur, Yelahanka, Bommanahalli, Hosur Road etc - have become hotspots of property development on which the land mafia has maintained an eagle’s eye. If they don’t harm you, they will milk you financially by promising to protect your property; in worst case scenarios, they grab the land that legally is bought by the citizens with an eye on future development to retire in an independent house in peace.
Many times a citizen even decides against approaching the court fearing huge costs and the time taken to clear the case.
If your property is on the radar of the land mafia, there is hardly a way out.
Sources in the police department say many non-resident Bangaloreans with properties in the city are facing a similar problem.
Police, who admit to the existence of the racket in and around Bangalore, are helpless as the offence comes under civil disputes and the aggrieved parties have no option but to approach the court.
Additional commissioner of police (law and order), T Sunil Kumar, said that as per the 2008 guidelines, police have no reason to intervene in civil disputes unless a crime is committed. However, taking note of the fact that members of the land mafia may exploit this to further resort to encroachment, Kumar said the police have been asked to keep an eye out on such people and take stringent action under the Goonda Act if they indulged in such acts.
“We know such rackets exist,” a police officer from the east division, the hub of such activities, told DNA. “So, whenever we come across such incidents, we book them under the Goonda Act. But the problem is that people are afraid to file complaints against such goons (as they do not want to antagonise them) and agree to pay them protection money to resolve the issue at the earliest.”
Earlier, the police handled such cases, but the station in-charge officers virtually became mediators in settling the property rows, leading to more corruption.
Way out for mafia
In another case, a gangster from Bangalore South recently threatened a city-based businessman-cum-whistleblower, Farooq Mueen - who helped the Lokayukta nail KGF MLA Y Sampangi in a bribery case - after he tried to help his friend whose land had been encroached. “My friend’s land has been encroached,” said Mueen. “When we approached police, they suggested we go to court since it was a civil matter,” he added.
“On the other hand, the goons have been telling me to stay away from this and calling my friend to approach them for a settlement.”
Taking a note on this, the former police commissioner Ajai Kumar Singh had issued a circular to policemen not to get involved in civil disputes.
But although corruption declined on this front, several gangs, influential people and politicians started to resolve civil disputes as out-of-court settlements, milking the involved parties financially.
Senior police officials said the prevalent system has allowed several ways out for the land mafia, based on their nexus with powerful politicians. If there is a fear of the law coming down hard on them, they foresee an alternative way - what they call out-of-court-settlement - and exploit the parties to benefit themselves the most