WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
Many years ago, film actor Bob Hope, who was also an enthusiastic investor in real estate, was asked why he was so keenly interested acquiring land. True to his flair for laconic responses, Bob Hope said, “Well, that’s the only thing they aint makin’ any more.” While we are all aware of the vastness of the Earth’s land area (even though the planet is three-quarters water and only one quarter land), we are also painfully aware of large number of people who do not have any land to call their own. In Assam alone, there are lakhs of families without any land to their mes. This is a fact of life that should go a long way to explain why there should be so much greed about securing a plot of land in Guwahati and having its registered in one’s me. While there is nothing irregular about this desire own landed property in the city, what is certainly not excusable is that this urge to have landed property in Guwahati in one’s me is beginning to turn into an unholy swindle with even government officials being involved in the scam of altering the mes of land owners in some title deeds. While greed is acknowledged as a human failing, by itself greed does not constitute a crime. Quite often, it is what greed leads people to do for the fulfilment of their aspirations that constitutes crimil activity. And quite often, instead of conceding that what people do when they are driven by their greed, the general tendency is to ratiolize the wrongs that are perpetrated as a consequence of one’s greed.
This is the kind of thing that is beginning to happen in a big way in Guwahati largely because of what even educated people are willing to do in order to acquire plot of land in the city. And because the business of acquiring land in Guwahati is not as simple as buying a suit or a car, we have a whole lot of agents and government officials who are willing to bend and break rules in order to ensure that the purchaser of land in Guwahati also has the necessary documents to prove the ownership of the land being bought. Unfortutely, since there is much land left in the city that can be sold or bought, there is a different kind of mischief that is being perpetrated in order to make both land and altered title deed available to the buyer of land. This happens most often with vacant land owned by people who have long lived away from the city and are not in actual possession of their land. This is the most cherished kind of real estate for people in the land scam of Guwahati that has suddenly picked up the most astonishing level of momentum. The foremost task is to identify the owners of the land and assess the extent of their proximity to the corridors of power. If the operators of the land scam discover that the owner of the land is well connected, they are generally inclined to leave the particular plot of land alone and to look for other such unoccupied plots. The modus operandi in such cases is to avoid any contacts with the owner of the land and to hand it over to someone who is willing to pay a tidy amount for the possession of someone else’s land. The worst part of the entire clandestine deal is that the alteration of the land records have to take place in a government office that was created to prevent such illegal acquisition of someone else’s property by land sharks. And yet this seemingly impossible task becomes a fairly easy one because there is no dearth of corrupt officers in our system of governce whose principal task it is to commit all kinds of crimes to someone’s property in the hands of someone else who has no right to it.
Many of these crimes involving the illegal handling of other people’s land and the altering of government records to eble the transfer of someone else’s land to take place are the handiwork of unscrupulous middlemen who have no means to make a living out of honest work. Their sole means of survival is through crimil or unlawful activity. We are aware that such elements exist in all countries that have chosen to take a tolerant view of corrupt practices, but it is not often that we have government offices staffed by employees who have no qualms about getting the government itself involved in such illegal activities.
What is the scerio like in respect of the land scam of Guwahati? This should be quite evident from what the State government has been obliged to do in order to deal with the malaise. The Chief Information Commissioner of Assam, H. S. Das, has ordered the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup (Metropolitan) district to conduct an enquiry into the frequent missing mutation case records, manipulation of land records as well as possible involvement of a land mafia in such cases in collusion with land revenue staff. The Assam State Information Commission has observed a few irregularities regarding land revenue records. Apparently, several people cases have been received seeking land mutation records in different circle offices of the Kamrup (Metropolitan) district. The most common grievance of such appellants was that lands belonging to them were mutated in the me of some other persons without their knowledge. Unfortutely, when copies of such mutation orders were sought by the affected persons under the RTI Act, 2005, they were told that the relevant case records were missing. The State Information Commission has also found anomalous land records where there are two sets of land records against the same plot of land in a second appeal case. The chitha and jamabandi maintained in the Circle office showed the me of one titleholder whereas the central records maintained in the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup (Metro) district, the me of another owner was indicated. As such, the State Chief Information Commissioner, seeking an inquiry, has directed the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup (Metro) district to ascertain which set of records is correct—whether the land records of the DC’s office is correct or those maintained by the Revenue Circle office is correct. The Deputy Commissioner has further been directed to take the necessary steps for correction of the land records and to fix responsibility.
What is not very well publicized is the fact that an agreement had been signed between the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup (Metro) district and a private company for digitization of registered sale deeds. Unfortutely, a substantial number of registered sale deeds were found not to have been digitized. Worse, the hard copies of the registered sale deeds were not returned to the office of the Senior Sub-registrar, Kamrup (Metro) district. It was tural, therefore, for the State Chief Information Commissioner to take serious note of the possibility of misuse of such lost registered sale deeds by unscrupulous elements to the detriment of unsuspecting land owners. He has, therefore, directed the Senior Sub-registrar to ascertain the actual number of such missing registered land sale deeds while initiating further necessary action.
What is perhaps far more important than what the government does to registered sale land deeds and such records is what individual citizens do about looking after their documents relating to their land holdings. The common experience is that not all citizens are aware of the best means of taking care of their documents relating to their real estate. The is no dearth of people who suffered for being uble to look after their most valuable records—their land records. There are times of crisis when people need their land records more than anything else. But not everyone is as well informed about ways of looking after precious documents as they need to be. It is time they looked for ways of looking after their documents a little more efficiently than they have been accustomed to doing.