Thursday, June 5, 2008

Builders' Banditry

Some time back some of us looking to buy property in Delhi, made a round of Dwarka, the only place in the city where we had some hope of buying property within our means. Although the place is filled with flats –occupied and unoccupied, it was nearly impossible to identify any property based on newspaper advertisements. So we did the next best thing, approached property dealers- and Dwarka has more property dealers it would seem than any other kind of shops. But though we wore out our foot wear visiting their dinghy offices, we could not identify one dealer, who would be willing to complete a transaction without accepting a portion of the payment in cash which would not accounted for. Partly constrained by our principles and partly by our purse for we could get a loan only on the declared value of the property, we gave up the chase after a while. None of us still own any property ; at least not in Delhi.

The sight of the uncouth and decidedly unprofessionally attired and ill mannered persona of those manning these “offices” and their equally loud and garish office d├ęcor should have alerted us that we were not dealing with any one acquainted in the least with real estate or property matters but with goons and thugs. But it did not. In fact it is the newspapers that have alerted me to this fact. The constant stream of news connecting property dealers with killing and murders is too obvious to ignore. The news of an NRI investor being duped of his property by a land mafia is just one more story in a long line of stories which connects dubious property dealers with crime and greed. A couple of months ago, the television channel CNN-IBN had done a sting operation aimed at restoring another property that had been ‘captured” from the owner by the local land mafia.

Scarcely a day passes when one does not find some property dealer or the other accused in some murder or extortion or other kind of deception. Recently one of the high profile cases involving a property dealer was that of Gurgaon property dealer Vijay Bharadwaj confessing to the killing of a Assistant Commissioner of Police in the Delhi Police. The shortage of land in the National Capital Region, particularly Delhi, the long connection between land, muscle power and greed and the fact that profession is still unregulated and is entirely in the unorganized sector has meant that chaos has ruled in the profession. In Delhi’s urban villages, where municipal zoning rules do not apply, all one needs to set up shop as a real estate agent is a rickety table and chair put with a ceiling fan droning lazily and a small television set perched up to help the attendant pass time as he waits for clients.

The government has for long pondered about regulating and licensing the capital intensive industry- at least in Delhi and the NCR region where the nexus between builders, property dealers and land grabbers seems particularly rampant. The Real Estate Management Regulation & Control Bill is maeant to license builders and property dealers and has provisions for penal action and includes even cancellation of license to operate, among several other stringent measures for those found guilty of flouting the norms. However will the bill be ever introduced in reality ? Or if ever introduced, will it ever be passed ? Remember the fate of the Womens’ Reservations Bill ? It took forever to be introduced and now that it is introduced , it is languishing in benign purgatory as vested interests try their best to scuttle it. The builder property dealer lobby may be less loud but no less effective in scuttling bills that are inconvenient. Meanwhile the pillaging and plunder will unfortunately continue !

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