Many parts of Pune, especially developing suburbs, have witnessed a surge in land grabbing, encroachments and deals involving forged documents to wrest ownership of prime land.
Since 2019, the Hadapsar, Wanowrie and Kondhwa police stations have received 23 such complaints. “The number of such FIRs is low compared to actual incidents,” Pune police commissioner Amitabh Gupta tells TOI, adding, “Landowners who have been affected must approach police; we will do everything possible to help them.”
Deputy commissioner of police (Zone V) Namrata Patil says they have arrested and filed chargesheets against the accused in most of the 23 cases. “Those on the run will be arrested soon,” she says, adding that no FIRs are registered in civil dispute cases. “We have also helped some landowners, including an Indian origin woman residing in America, get back their property without litigation,” Patil says.
The merger of fringe villages into the municipal limits, making Pune the largest municipality in Asia; government projects like Smart Cities Mission; and the proposed international airport — which instantly increased the real estate value — have made untended — and unattended — land ripe for the plucking.
In recent years, several aggrieved landowners, alleging sale of their property without their consent, have approached the police; all complaints are pending inquiry with either the economic offences wing, the anti-extortion cell, or police stations concerned.
It’s not just privately owned land; even government land is not spared — DCP Patil says huge tracts of land owned by the state women and child department and forest department in Wanowrie and Kondhwa have been usurped. “We have sent letters to the authorities concerned to barricade their premises, install sign boards, appoint a fulltime caretaker and be vigilant,” she says.
Real estate developers say land has become extremely attractive in light of rapid urbanisation, IT hubs, and increase in business activities in fringe areas. “Criminals and organized crime syndicates from Hadapsar, Kalepadal and Mohammadwadi have become emboldened; even political and social organizations are involved,” says Nilesh Magar, director of Magarpatta Township Development and Construction Company.
Some legitimate landowners also resort to underhanded tactics. “Many ancestral landowners sell properties by forging signatures of their relatives to deprive them of their share. The legal heirs then move the civil court, tying the land up in litigation,” says Sunil Tarte, vice-president of Amanora Township.
Tarte adds that sometimes when there’s a delay in updating land records following a sale, the original owners mortgage the property and obtain fraudulent loans.
Lawyer Prakash Savarkar, who specialises in civil disputes, claims land laws are often not implemented properly. “Open spaces are usurped. All documents are notarised on old stamp papers and no sale deed is executed. The buyers and sellers get monetary benefits, but the state loses out on revenue,” says Savarkar.
“Land sharks identify properties whose owners died long ago without informing their heirs, or land that is fenced-in but unused for decades. They forge documents and sell the land or construct buildings and sell flats illegally,” explains land rights activist Salim Mulla.
DCP Patil says once they receive a complaint, they conduct a preliminary inquiry and verify the documents provided by both parties. “If the agreement is registered, then revenue officials will verify the authenticity of the documents. We seek legal opinion and take action against land-grabbers,” Patil explains.
If an agreement is simply notarised on stamp paper and not registered with the revenue department, the police then record statements of people residing in the vicinity of the disputed land, question witnesses and verify the credentials of the parties in dispute. “These measures help us identify genuine landowners/buyers and take action against the wrong-doers,” adds Patil.