Arvind Kejriwal’s allegations against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra have brought to back to national attention Indian politicians’ obsession with real estate.
On their own, in cahoots with criminal mafias and small and big real estate companies, politicians have created the biggest land-grabbing machinery in India.
Tamil Nadu is a brilliant example of how far things have gone. Since the Jayalalithaa government came to power in mid-2011, a large number of former ministers and MLAs, including the former deputy chief minister and DMK chief’s son MK Stalin, have been charged with land-grab cases.
DMK heavyweights and former ministers such as KN Nehru, Veerapandi Arumugam, NKKP Raja, Pongalur Palanisamy and K Ponmudi were among those arrested. All of them spent several weeks in jail.
A few days ago, Ponmudi, who had spent more than 80 days in jail on landgrab charges, was booked again for illegal sand quarrying.
On Tuesday, one more former DMK minister Parithi Ilamvazhuthi was charged with a case of usurping land worth Rs 200 crores on the outskirts of Chennai. Reportedly, with the help of the former minister, some people had grabbed the land and sold it to a big construction company.
Land grab was one of the top issues during Jayalalithaa’s election campaigns. She had promised tough action if she came back to power. As soon as she assumed office, the government began its crackdown. For several months since then, there was at least one high profile land grab story a day. The trickle still continues.
Land grab has topped all crimes in the state with complaints and allegations still pouring in. According to the policy note of the home department of Tamil Nadu government, the “anti land grabbing cells” that it established have received more than 34,000 complaints across the state.
The government established 39 anti land grab cells, one each for each district and one each with each police commissioner; and 25 fast track courts for the quick disposal of cases.
The highest number of cases have been registered in Chennai, which commands the highest real estate prices in the state, followed by Kancheepuram, which is home to the booming IT corridor. There were 168 cases registered in Chennai followed by 114 in Kancheepuram.
This is what the state government said about land grabbing in its policy note: “The Land mafia which was indulging in dislodging legitimate land owners from the ownership and possession of their property has been mercilessly and relentlessly suppressed enabling the common people to enjoy their legitimately acquired property without any hindrance.”
Reportedly, the land-grabbers backed by the politicians, who have been either charged or arrested, had perfected a sinister design to take over others’ properties.
The easiest targets were vacant properties, which they would occupy with the help of politicians. When the land-owner came to know of the occupation, the grabbers would demand money to vacate the land or pressurise him/her to sell out, often at throw away prices. The politicians provided the cover of fear and police inaction or intimidation.
The criminals also targeted NRI-owned properties, which they try to sell by forging documents using their clout at the sub registrar’s offices. The police claimed that all these cases occurred during the DMK regime, and most of them had not been registered with the police because of the fear for the criminal-politician nexus. Perhaps justifying the government view, there was a deluge of complaints as soon as the anti land grab cells were set up.
Miffed by the large number of cases that literally grounded the elite of the party earlier this year, Karunanidhi had accused the government of political vendetta. He had said that the government’s claims were exaggerated and that it dragged its feet involving AIADMK men.
The government has so far restored more than 1,300 acres of land. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of acres of land “acquired” by various politician-mafia combos from farmers and poor villagers are unlikely to be restored unless there is change of law.
Most of them might look perfectly legal, although the farmers and villagers could have been threatened to part with their land or fooled into cheap deals. Apparently, the granite mafia in Madurai alone have usurped vast tracts of land from local villagers.