SHEILA DEVI, 54, of Nangal Kalan village in Haryana’s Sonepat district cannot comprehend how Taneja Developers and Infrastructure Ltd (TDI) procured her two-acre plot in 2004, ‘signed’ with thumb impressions of her husband Narender Singh, who died in 2002 and his brother Bhupender, who went missing the next year.
The documents are obviously forged. But how did a farmers’ family get cheated in Haryana, where the land acquisition policy formed in 1975 is reputed to be one of the most farmer-friendly pieces of legislation? Its prime claim to fame is that in case of urban development, the private developer has to enter into a ‘collaboration agreement’ with the landowner. The collaboration is meant to ensure that the landowner has some stake — which brings in regular income — in the development project being constructed on his/her land. In these cases, the landowner will always be the rightful owner, even as the ‘coloniser’ earns profits for his investment in the land.
However, farmers in Rai block of Sonepat allege that documents such as power-of-attorney, licence applications, collaboration agreements and land transfers were made in their names through forged signatures and fake thumb impressions. The landowners allege that more than 2,000 acres of prime agricultural land, which is worth more than Rs 2.5 crore per acre today, was bought by deceitful means at an average of Rs 20 lakh per acre.
In the course of the month-long investigation, TEHELKA spoke to 12 villagers in Nangal Kalan, 10 in Rasoi and six in Aterna, who hadn’t a clue about a ‘collaboration’ with developers when they were made to sign some papers. Almost all of them fear a forged agreement in their name. TEHELKA verified at least 15 cases in Nangal Kalan, where the thumb impression in the collaboration agreement was highly suspect.
When confronted with the possibility of forgery, TC Gupta, Director, Town and Country Planning (DTCP), Haryana, ducked the question. He states that his department is not accountable in cases of failure in fulfilling contractual obligation or forgery in documents pertaining to that.
General power of attorney (GPA) is a legal arrangement wherein an individual empowers another to handle asset matters on his/her behalf. GPA is necessary in cases where a licence has to be obtained for a collaborative project of the developer and the landowner.
The story at a glance
• Haryana’s land acquisition policy of 1975 is a farmer-friendly legislation but builders still find ways to cheat farmers
• General power of attorney (GPA) papers are being drawn up in neighbouring cities with forged thumb impressions
• Officials in charge of town development say they can do little if there is forgery – farmers should file FIRs
• TDI is setting up a township in Sonepat over 1,500 acres, making it the largest private player in the region
• In the master plan, this area was earmarked for software parks and industrial zones, hence farmers refrained from using it for other purposes
• In 2004, the Haryana Urban Development Authority issued a notice for acquisition of this land, which few farmers saw
• A rumour went around that the government compensation would be low. This is when the builders approached farmers with better deals
• Several private projects stand halted either because of stay orders by courts or the unexpected demand slump in the region
• A group of farmers led by a former sarpanch are carrying on a silent battle using RTI and other means
• Builders have allegedly taken loans against the land using GPA, making farmers liable for repayment, without their knowledge
In Nangal Kalan, villagers allege that almost all GPA and licence forms were obtained by fraudulent means. The GPA deed has been drawn up in several names from towns as far as Tarn Taran (Punjab) and Baghpat (Uttar Pradesh), the villagers say.
When confronted with these irregularities, Gupta shrugs them off as “general observations”. The Haryana DTCP goes on to say that the villagers are welcome to take legal recourse if they indeed feel they are victims of injustice. Satbir Singh of Nangal Kalan scoffs at Gupta’s comments. “Ten of us have already gone to court. All of Nangal Kalan will go to court. We will see how these people get away,” he says.
TDI, with DN Taneja as chairman, has the biggest land bank in Sonepat — more than 1,500 acres, which is half of its holdings all over north India. The biggest catch for the group has been Nangal Kalan, where it is building TDI Tuscan City.
Just an hour’s drive from Delhi, Nangal Kalan is a 1,450-acre village in Kundli. It is the biggest village in Rai block and is inhabited by Jats, Rajputs, Dalits and Muslims. In the Haryana Master Plan prepared in the mid-1980s, Nangal Kalan as well as neighbouring villages such as Rasoi and Aterna were earmarked for developing tech parks, industrial zones and residential colonies. Hence landowners have refrained from utilising the land for any purpose other than agriculture.
However, in 2004, Haryana Urban Development Authority issued notice of land acquisition to the farmers of Nangal Kalan. Curiously, even though the notice under Section 9 (final stage of acquisition) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, was issued in the names of more than 1,500 landowning households, it was withdrawn immediately. Most of the farmers never actually received the notice but news about it spread quickly.
“The whisper was that the government offer was too low,” says Ranbir Jung of Nangal Kalan. “An atmosphere of fear was created. Then suddenly, brokers representing developers came calling. Strangely, they were offering much higher prices.”
The brokers convinced several landlords that the offer — TDI, Ansal API and Omaxe being the biggest players — was thrice the government compensation.
Farmers allege that 2,000 acres, today worth over Rs 2.5 cr per acre, was ‘bought’ for Rs 20 lakh per acre
In Nangal Kalan, TDI struck a deal with some farmers to submit their land for collaborative projects. Land registry was done with an air of urgency. Almost 80 percent of the village is unlettered in English and semi-literate in Hindi. The farmers allege that fake thumb impressions were produced on crucial documents like the collaboration agreement, skewed towards builders’ interests.
Since 2008, a group of farmers led by the former sarpanch of Nangal Kalan, 50-year-old Satbir Singh, has fought a silent battle with the weapons of Right to Information Act, 2005, as well as handsome bribes. This group has accessed thousands of pages of documents that they claim substantiate the allegations they level about the sheer scale of “a scam run by private players and facilitated by the government”.
In 2008, Satbir Singh found that his three-acre plot was to be turned into a mall built by TDI. To his dismay, TDI had all the documents in place — complete with thumb impressions of himself and his brother. Satbir claims that he never gives his thumb print on any document without legal consultation.
ACCORDING TO the development Master Plan meant for Sonepat (a copy of which is available with TEHELKA), TDI ought to have finished all projects by 2008-09, which included the mall on Satbir Singh’s land. After violent confrontation with company representatives in the nearby police station, the developer has kept a distance from Satbir Singh.
As opposed to the common frame of a poor, innocent farmer, Satbir is wily and aspires to be a builder. He can deliver monologues on justice with alacrity. In the supreme confidence of getting a better deal from TDI, he’s spent lakhs of rupees to get documents for every villager in Nangal.
Today, two of the main entrances to Nangal Kalan from Grand Trunk Road are through TDI’s grand avenues. Despite the fact that TDI is the biggest player in the region, several of its projects stand halted either because of stay orders or the unexpected demand slump in the region. Kingsbury Apartments constructed by TDI — the only up and running project — has 200 buyers. As for the rest of TDI City, which is meant to have nearly 7,000 apartments and luxury villas, construction seems to be in slow motion since 2006. The lowest priced apartment in the TDI was meant to stand at Rs 21.5 lakh. But today, a simple online check reveals a large number of disgruntled people who have paid the advance to TDI and are yet to get the apartment.
“The builders have not been able to pay the External Development Charges and Internal Development Charges,” says Gupta about the complaints by flat buyers. “We will cancel the licences if required. We have given notices to TDI, which says it will clear the dues in a given time-frame.”
More alarmingly, almost all these farmers are gripped by anxiety that builders have taken huge bank loans in their name. The GPA is ample proof for mortgaging a plot of land. The bank guarantee documents in their names (in TEHELKA’s possession) show an average Rs 15- 20 crore guarantee on loans.
Government officials rubbish these allegations. “The developer produces the bank guarantee merely to show its capability to build infrastructure such as roads, parks and schools,” says BK Saini of Sonepat’s Town and Country Planning Department. “The government has nothing to do with the complaints of these farmers. Their deal is with the private developer. If they feel that signatures have been forged, let them register FIRs,” he adds.
On a sunny winter day, a group of farmers sit in a square gazing at the fields, smoking hookah and pipes. Each one has a story to tell; of loss and resilience. “These people approached my father with policemen and asked him to sign the collaboration agreement. He did. This was being facilitated by Manger Ram, a TDI fixer. He’s from our village,” says 38-year-old Satbir Singh. “We came to know later that they went to Baghpat in UP and got a GPA for my father. They got another agreement registered. My father neither went there nor did it have his thumb impression,” he adds. Satbir’s father was handed about Rs 1 crore for giving up 5.5 acres. Satbir has been threatened several times by goons employed by TDI.
Dharampal, who is nearly 70 years old, butts in. “They have taken loans on my land — I have the bank guarantee papers to prove it. None of the documents bear my signature. They took the loans, but my signatures were faked. In 2002, my younger brother died. There’s a loan in his name also. His name is Rajpal Singh. We did not have partitions in the land. All three brothers have been living in the same household,” says Dharampal.
For 54-year-old Shakuntala Devi, a widow for the past decade, the world turned upside down when TDI came to her doorstep with appropriate papers. “They asked me to sign some papers and I did. That’s the mistake many of us committed. We were trapped like that. I have not received any compensation. I just got token money of Rs 28 lakh per acre — an agreement for payment,” she says.
EVER SINCE, Shakuntala and her daughter have fought relentlessly to get their rightful price for the land. When she registered a complaint with the Haryana DTCP, an inquiry conducted in her case concluded that there was no conclusive evidence for forgery, as she alleged.
However, as TEHELKA found, a letter dated 23 June 2009 by the Station House Officer of Kundli clearly states that the police inquiry established that the documents obtained in her name indeed had fake thumb impressions. Further, TEHELKA also has in its possession a certified letter from the sub-registrar of Tarn Taran which states that the GPA in Shakuntala’s name on the said date never took place. All attempts by TEHELKA to get a response from the private builders went in vain. Mailed questionnaires to the managements of TDI, Ansal API and Omaxe went unanswered.
Unlike in the case of land acquisition in parts of central India, where the farmers have waged a stiff battle against land acquisition, the farmers in Nangal Kalan are actually pro-industry in the interests of employment for village youth.
In Rasoi and Aterna, the villagers are facing desperate times, having completely sold their land and having spent the paltry compensation money. In Rasoi and Aterna — where Ansal API and Omaxe have more stakes — collaboration agreements and other formalities were conveniently done away with. Instead, the developer bought land from farmers via brokers.
Sahab Singh, 35, used to own four acres. A broker, Susheel Bharadwaj, representing the Ansals, approached Sahab’s father Ramender Singh. “They took my father to Ethnic India, a resort nearby,” says Sahab Singh. “Drinks were served and Susheel cut a deal with him for Rs 24 lakh per acre.” However, when the settlement was made, the family got just Rs 15 lakh per acre.
The family went to court but lost the case. Now it is worth nearly Rs 2.5 crore per acre. Sahab Singh’s land was transferred by Susheel to Ansals, which eventually went into the TDI kitty.
Four other men who have lost their land, who are 70 plus, nod on as Sahab speaks. Ironically, the youth in Rasoi, who otherwise had the option of agriculture, are getting employment as security personnel or as labourers in the projects that are coming up on their land.
However, in Rasoi, TEHELKA found a landowner who had entered into a genuine collaboration agreement with Ansal API that will ensure stable regular income for the rest of his life. Jasbir, 45, used to grow wheat and rice on two acres. The deal he struck got him 3,000 sq yd of developed plot and Rs 9 lakh for the rest of the land.
“This kind of loot has become common in Haryana after the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government took over. Master Plans are changed for the sake of the builders. Who will inquire into all the scandals in Haryana?” says former CM and Indian National Lok Dal supremo Om Prakash Chautala. “The Rajiv Gandhi Education City is a classic example of how farmers are being cheated. Everywhere, fake documents are brought out to acquire land.”
When reminded that TDI and other builders got licences from his regime, Chautala says, “Giving licence to builders is a mere formality. But creating an atmosphere for loot is Congress behaviour. Even the CBI is there to serve the Congress.”
Policy matters aside, on the administrative front too, there’s a tardiness that’s incomprehensible in recognising the mess in land deals. Whereas officials doggedly deny any illegality or suspicious handling, they accept that there may have been mistakes and wrongdoings in the past.
Both the DTCP, Chandigarh, as well as the officials at the Sonepat district level, concede the murkiness when documentary evidence is shown to substantiate the allegations made by villagers.
Thus, a region, which was meant to be the most desirable residential area in the National Capital Region, has turned out to be a messy affair, with no progress on ground and discontent abound.
G Vishnu is a Correspondent with Tehelka.