Telangana land scam: KCR's denial of corruption is laughable as ACB raids highlight murky deals

Rajya Sabha MP Kesava Rao has offered to return the 38 acres of government land bought by his family in May 2016 in the Hafeezpur village in Ibrahimpatnam mandal, Telangana. Under fire for allegedly purchasing the land despite the former sub-registrar of the area pointing out that it was government land, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader has decided to make an exit from what he now describes as a "muddy deal"'. However, Rao wants the private realty firm that sold the land to him to return the money to him with interest.

Rao's offer has come even as chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao denied that his government has lost even one paisa to land sharks. If that was indeed the case, why did KCR transfer 70 sub-registrars and even hand over the case to the CID? Isn't the chief minister's statement that not one inch of government land was lost, pre-judging the case even before the investigation has begun?

 Telangana land scam: KCRs denial of corruption is laughable as ACB raids highlight murky deals

File image of K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFP

The claim itself is disputable given the kind of money that is being unearthed during raids on sub-registrars in the state. The Anti-Corruption Bureau found Prabhakar Reddy, a document writer of having "purchased" a whopping 161 properties in the last few years. He has even disposed off 120 of those properties. The total value of the assets was reportedly worth Rs 14 crore. But Reddy was merely the benami owner, the real owner allegedly is Kukatpally sub-registrar Srinivas Rao, who would route all financial transactions through Reddy. The raids have proven that the sub-registrar offices in Telangana are a den of a well-oiled network of corruption. Raids at Balanagar sub-registrar Mohammad Yousuf's residence unearthed disproportionate assets worth Rs 8 crore, including properties, allegedly bought in benami names. Both sub-registrars have been suspended.

To show that he means business, KCR also ordered raids on 141 registration offices across Telangana. The ACB has formed a special cell to probe land registration frauds committed so far. But while that will mean cleaning up the rot at the business end of the operations, the feeling is that those with political connections are getting away scot-free. Why would huge bribes be paid to sub-registrars and their men in the registration offices unless they were helping private parties make a killing, while obviously denting the state exchequer? For KCR, to claim that the government didn't lose any money, therefore, is laughable.

And it isn't just Kesava Rao whose family had bought the land. Another TRS MP D Srinivas also is in the dock for reportedly getting land that had been allotted to Dalits. Srinivas in his defence says, "This land passed several hands before I bought it. So, how did the registration department allow all those transactions."

The lid was blown off the scam only after an internal audit of the registration department — in March — revealed sale of 693 acres of land in Miyapur, a locality on the outskirts of Hyderabad. A back of the envelope calculation revealed that the land parcel was worth Rs 587 crore.

But the feeling gaining ground is that only the sub-registrars are facing the flak. PS Prasad of the Goldstone group, one of the main accused in the case, is absconding and is known to be politically connected. His two colleagues are in judicial custody but they plead that the lands are held by private parties and do not belong to the government. Different companies with links to the Goldstone group, according to police officials, are essentially suitcase companies.

The modus operandi was to target lands that were once owned by members of the extended Hyderabad Nizam family or the nobles who held positions of power before 1948 when Hyderabad became part of the Indian Union. Under the Jagir Abolition Act, all unoccupied land was taken over by the Hyderabad state in the early 50s. But in many cases, the kith and kin of the nobles filed cases, contesting the nominal compensation paid in many cases or no money being paid in some instances.

The scamsters would create the impression that there are multiple claimants for the same land. They would allegedly manufacture fabricated documents of the lands and register it in the name of two different sets of benamis, claiming to be descendants of the nobles. The two groups would then go to court staking claim on the land. The case would drag on for months after which one of the benami parties would withdraw, leaving the other group in possession. With the sub-registrar taking his cut to sign on the dotted line, the "government" never realised that the land was being taken out under its nose.

Ironically, even while the chief minister says that the scam is a figment of the imagination of the media and the opposition parties, the public prosecutor — while arguing against granting bail to the two accused from the Goldstone group — said they had cheated several gullible people with forged documents and that only a detailed probe would unearth the clandestine transactions in this scam.

The Opposition believes many members of the ruling TRS have their hands in the till, and therefore, want a court-monitored CBI investigation into the case, which they allege is a Rs 15,000 crore land scam. "A member of PS Prasad's family is still working as a secretary in the chief minister's office. The chief minister has to answer how this is being allowed," says Revanth Reddy, TDP leader.

During the Telangana agitation, KCR promised a Bangaru Telangana (golden Telangana) if bifurcation from Andhra Pradesh happened. The pity is only some fraudsters seem to have struck gold in the last three years.

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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 18:53:09 IST