Elderly NRI wages lonely battle against ‘land mafia’

By Sahil Makkar, IANS,

New Delhi : G.L. Sethi, a Britain-based Indian, taught for nearly four decades in London, but the dream of owning a house in New Delhi cost him a significant chunk of his life’s savings.

Support TwoCircles

Today the 70-year-old professor of political science, who is a cancer patient, is running from pillar to post to have the land mafia here put behind bars.

Sethi, who always keeps an inhaler next to him to ease asthma attacks, has turned his two-bedroom Dwarka apartment, mostly occupied with books on spirituality and sociology, into ground zero – for waging a battle against unscrupulous builders and real estate agents, who allegedly duped him of nearly Rs.5 million on the pretext of giving him an excellent deal.

The grey-haired man said since he was a frequent flier to India, he decided a few years ago to buy a house in New Delhi. He said he blindly trusted his nephew K.K. Nagpal, a bank employee, who ended up cheating him.

“Nagpal introduced me to one R.P. Chhabra, a real estate agent in west Delhi. Chhabra further introduced me to one Gulshan Chanana, director of Lakshay Estate Builders Pvt Ltd, in 2004 saying that Chanana owns a property in Subash Nagar and wants to sell it off for Rs.5.6 million. Chhabra assured me that it was a good deal,” Sethi, who once taught at Kirori Mal College here, told IANS. In 1966, he moved to London where he lectured at the
University of Westminster.

“When I said I was not in a position to pay the full amount, Chhabra asked me to transfer the possession of my five shops in Ashok Nagar to a third party and I did so. Chanana said he would sell the shops and the amount generated (Rs.2 million) would be adjusted in the sale-purchase of the plot in Subash Nagar (in west Delhi),” Sethi added.

Coughing now and then, Sethi said, “Trusting them blindly, I paid Chanana the remaining amount through cheques and cash. But later I came to know that Chanana was not the actual owner of the property, which was instead owned by one Gulshan Sharma.”

Sharma had been living in the property for the past eight or nine years and had hired Chanana to construct shops there.

When Sethi demanded that his money be returned, Chanana allegedly forced him to sign an agreement of cancellation of all previous deeds.

“I was threatened at gun point and forced to further sign a new agreement in July 2007. I was paid Rs.500,000 and told that Rs.2.3 million more would be paid by November 2007 as the full and final payment,” Sethi alleged.

But when no further payment was made, Sethi approached the Economic Offences wing of Delhi Police in December last year. The investigators found Chanana guilty and arrested him on charges of cheating in May 2008. The Patiala House court then sent Chanana on a two-day police remand.

Chanana claimed he had paid all the money to Sethi but the latter was demanding more. However, he could not produce any proof of transferring the money to Sethi, the investigating officer told the court.

Chanana, accused in other similar frauds, was sent to judicial custody, but on June 3 he secured bail on a surety of Rs.100,000.

Sethi now fears for his life as Chanana and his accomplice Bablu Pehlwan, accused in many cases of kidnapping, murder and attempt to murder, are allegedly threatening him.

“They have dared me to take the money from them,” Sethi said. “Since the day Chanana was released on bail, their threats have gone up. I am continuously being chased like a shadow. But I will continue to fight till the end,” Sethi, who has his wife and two children in London, said in Punjabi.

Police records suggest that like Sethi at least 14 NRIs have been duped in Delhi in the past three years. Either their lands have been encroached upon or sold illegally by the land mafia.

Police officials say the land mafia – mostly a bunch of unscrupulous real estate agents – form a well-organised network to keep a close watch on the land and other property of those NRIs who hardly visit the city.

“The land mafia has formed a complex web, involving government and bank officials, to keep a tab on people who rarely visit their properties back home,” a senior Crime Branch official told IANS.

The mafia not only sells such land with forged documents but also puts NRIs in trouble by obtaining bank loans against their property.

(Sahil Makkar can be contacted at [email protected])