On the eve of the third anniversary of Telangana, the state police was caught up in a massive land scam where the sub-registrar of Kuttapally in Hyderabad had secretly gifted a huge area of government land, nearly 696 acres, belonging to HUDA (Hyderabad Urban Development Authority) amongst others, to a private real estate concern.
Ponnapula Sanjeeva Prasad, popularly known as 'Goldstone' Prasad, a businessman from Hyderabad who was involved in major investment scams in USA in the 1980s, is suspected to be the kingpin behind this scam. His companies — Goldstone Infratech along with Trinity Infratech and Suvishal Power Generators — are the main beneficiaries of this alleged scam. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of a highly organised land scam orchestrated in this decade,” said an official from the Telangana Land Registration Commissionerate.
Although the revenue department had decreed, in as early as 2007 and again in 2010, that there should be no registration of what are called sanad lands in survey numbers 100, 101, 20 and 28, sub-registrar R Srinivas Rao at Kukkatpally in Hyderabad had done so clandestinely.
On 16 January, 2017, the sub-registrar had registered a General Power of Attorney (GPA) by one Ameerunnisha Begum and seven others as the descendants of the Nawab of Miyapur, Khairasuddin Khan, to show that the land belonged to them. Investigations revealed that Miyapur was a jagir village, a gift given by the Nizam to Nawab Khaisarudin Khan as per the blue book of Nizam’s properties since 1917-18, and these were taken over by the government after police action in 1948.
After police action, a blue book was opened to record the assets and properties of the Nizam and his ministers which were taken over by the government, similar to the blue book created after the partition of Pakistan.
On 16 January evening, a sale deed of the same plots of land (in four parcels — numbering 472 to 474 /4/2016) were registered in the name of the infratech companies for just Rs 1 lakh in stamp duty and Rs 20,000 in registration charges. But none of these was detected until the internal audit as the culprits had hidden the documents in the section (Book-4) meant for record of marriages and GPAs instead of in sale deeds (Book-1).
“The act of the sub-registrar was in violation of Registration Act 1908 provisions and a loss of Rs 587.11 crore to the state,” said an internal audit in March 2017. More than three sub-registrars and several realtors have been taken into custody and another five have been suspended so far. Raids by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) continued at sub-registrar offices (SRO) in Adilabad, Khammam, Mahbubnagar, Warangal, Karimnagar and Medak districts.
Land registration is normally high in the months of May and June, but the scandal and the investigations have put a halt on the intense activity during the last week. Around 72 registration offices got new incumbents in the statewide transfers and all sub-registrars of the city were shunted out and 29 sub-registrars from outside were posted in the city last week. It is said that the audit report was kept in cold storage and finally reached the Chief Minister’s Office in April.
“We acted fast on the internal audit and handed over the case to police for a detailed investigation,” says revenue secretary BP Meena.
The disclosure came at a bad time for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti government which was gearing up for the third anniversary celebrations of the new state and had issued advertisements painting a rosy picture of development and welfare. The land deal was described as the ‘mother of scams in Telangana’ by Opposition parties and the Hyderabad police jumped into action by conducting raids in all the 142 sub-registrar offices in the state.
Unofficial reports said that similar activities on huge tracts of government lands were unscrupulously written off to private individuals, all of which had led to a loss of Rs 15,000 crore to the state exchequer. “All these indicate a high-level operation by a clique of politicians, revenue officials and real estate operators,” said Donti Narasimha Reddy, a social activist.
The Opposition, led by the Congress, BJP and the Telugu Desam Party, went to town blaming the TRS and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for the scandal. They alleged the involvement of a senior IAS officer in the CMO, Shanta Kumari, a relative of Goldstone Infratech managing director PS Prasad and also that of an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in minister T Srinivas Yadav’s peshi. “KCR should do a soul search as corruption is rampant in his own backyard,” jibed Telangana Joint Action Committee leader, professor Kodandaram, KCR’s bitter opponent.
All is not lost, says KCR
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao said that the government had cancelled that particular land registration and the land is in its possession. “The registration was clandestinely done for procuring bank loans. We have scrapped the sale deed, informed the banks and arrested the top realtors — Goldstone, Trinity and Suvishal Power,” he said.
Henceforth, K Chandrashekhar Rao has ordered ACB monitoring of activities of all 142 sub-registrar offices. He took deputy chief minister Mohammed Ali and other officials to task but they blamed it on the provision of Registration Anywhere scheme, launched in 2014, to facilitate the buyers and investors in Hyderabad. The government lands of Miyapur were registered by operators at Kukkatpally, 25 kilometres away.
The Telangana government immediately scrapped the Register Anywhere scheme which had allegedly led to benami registrations. “Around 20-25% of the land registrations are benami and this needs to be immediately addressed,” admitted K Chandrashekhar Rao.
Simultaneously, the state government withdrew the discretionary powers of the sub-registrars granted under 47A of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 with regard to stamp fees and also alienation of the land under ‘banned categories’. “Congress government had given discretionary powers to sub-registrars in 2010 and modified sections of 47A of the Act with a view to decentralise the administration and expedite land issues which had led to the present chaos,” said the chief minister.
All sub-registrar offices, henceforth, will have CCTV surveillance. All documents — sale deeds, GPAs and marriage registrations — have to be updated regularly and any documents lying in the sub-registrar office beyond 45 days would be seized by special task forces.
ACB teams, which carried out raids on the residences of arrested sub-registrars R Srinivasa Rao, TV Ramesh Chander Reddy and Mohammed Yousuf, found gold, cash and fake documents in abundance. Balanagar sub-registrar Mohammed Yousuf had allegedly made a whopping transfer of around 2,300 acres land to private infratech companies. “These lands are in areas abutting the IT corridor where the real estate prices are booming and land grabbers are trying to cash in on the opportunity,” says Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh M Bhagwat.
A history of land ownership mess
In the 1970s, owning a piece of land and protecting it was a Herculean task in Hyderabad. Land sharks would put up gudise (huts) on any vacant piece of land. A former Congress leader and Union minister G Venkatswamy popularly known as ‘Gudisula’ Venkatswamy, was alleged to be behind large-scale land grabbing in the posh Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills areas of Hyderabad.
Hyderabadis are also aware of several other land mafia operators including Imran Khan (who published Evidence, an English weekly from Punjaguta in Hyderabad) and gangster Nayeem who allegedly had the support of extremists and some top police officials and political leaders. All of them owned huge tracts of prime vacant lands in and around Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy, Nalgonda and Medak districts and made a killing with the IT explosion and demand for IT infrastructure.
Since the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, the government had designated the urban and rural lands around Hyderabad and across the state into inam, waqf, endowments, billa dakhala, paigah, kandishikula and sanad lands. After Independence, new categories were added — lands assigned to the landless poor and zarib lands (wetlands). These lands are banned from being registered.
The lists of such government lands, whose registration is banned, were revised and distributed across all SROs in 2003 and 2007. But the officials of the SROs claimed that they have old lists from 2003. The SROs claim that there is no gazette list after the formation of Telangana. “The lists should be periodically published in gazettes for giving them legal sanctity, otherwise, we are hauled up in courts in PILs by everyone,” says an office-bearer of the Telangana SROs association.
A one-man commission, headed by retired IAS officer SK Sinha, was set up by the TRS government to investigate land grabbing cases in December 2014. The Sinha report, submitted in December 2016, exposed the hand of bigwigs, including top bureaucrats, in alienating thousands of acres of government land in and around Hyderabad but the government had shelved this report without any action.
One instance was that of 2,000 acres belonging to freedom fighters located in Patancheru and Ramachandrapuram mandals. These were allegedly usurped by land sharks with the active cooperation of the higher officials. “Strange that several important files of land grants have disappeared in government record rooms,” said the Sinha report. “It is the failure of the government to publish the gazette of land lists that has led to present chaos and anarchy in land deals,” reiterates M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of Forum for Good Governance.
Following media exposure of the findings of Sinha report, many cases of government land grab in the state capital had been admitted in the high court. The court had also urged the government to issue revised gazettes of the lists of banned properties to all SROs by December 2016. “As per section 22A of the Indian Stamps Act, it is mandatory to publish a gazette on lands whose registration is banned,” the court said.
But the revenue ministry and the CMO said that even after three years of Telangana formation, land issues and assets were yet to be finalised. “We are paying for the sins of past rulers. The government will publish gazette of its properties after finalisation of the schedule 9th and 10th assets under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014,” said a senior revenue official at the Telangana secretariat.
It is thanks to the continued ambiguity in land assets of the Nizam’s city since 1948 that unscrupulous elements in both government and real estate industry were making hay at the expense of the government and the common man. When IT companies made a beeline for Hyderabad between 2000-2003, the Chandrababu Naidu government had conducted surveys of government lands to reassure the IT investors that their land grants were legal and there were no encumbrances. Even then some multinational companies like Dell, Oracle, TCS and Infosys had hired local consultants and advocates to ascertain that the lands given to them were clear grants.
Incidentally, Hyderabad is on top of the risk analysis ranking by the Overseas Security Advisory Council of United States Bureau of Diplomatic Services. “Do not buy land or apartments unless it is authorised or endorsed by the local police,” says an advisory by the council to all foreigners, mostly IT workers. “At least a few hundred police complaints are filed every year about encroachments, double sales of housing plots and prime land in and around Hyderabad,” says ACB additional director Govind Singh who is now investigating the Miyapur land scam.
Hyderabad was stirred in 2010 when the ACB and later the CBI had unravelled the Emaar scam of villas by bigwigs of the Congress party and industry. The joint venture between APIIC (Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation) and Emaar Properties, Dubai, to develop an integrated project consisting of golf course, club house, boutique, hotel and township on 535 acres of land at Manikonda has led to the arrest of an IAS officer under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and exposed the rampant corruption during the YS Rajashekhar Reddy regime.
When this issue had come up for debate in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly in 2010, the then chief minister, Kiran Kumar Reddy, had thrown his hands up and said — “If the government cannot protect its lands, then God alone can save the state.” Perhaps Telangana, seven years later, is still waiting for that God.
Updated Date: Jun 06, 2017 20:08:56 IST