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Property Grab

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Property grab has been a chronic problem in Uttarakhand, particularly Dehradun. It is one of the major failures of governance common to whoever has been in power. It is especially painful that a solution has not been found even in an otherwise civilised city. One reason obviously has been the high chance of success and the profits to be made for very little effort. Another is the large number of elderly land owners, as well absentee proprietors. The perpetrators do not even hesitate to take their chances with retired – even serving – members of the Armed Forces, civil servants, and members of supposedly eminent families.

The methodologies are simple – quietly encroach on land and claim legitimacy on the principle of long time occupation. This is easy when the owners are away serving in some other part of the country or the world. Or, connive with small-time officials in the tehsil or municipality to create fake ownership papers; or forge sale deeds, even wills. Buildings with large compounds in high-end localities are targeted by caretakers and tenants. It all becomes easy because once the land is occupied and the matter is taken to court, it takes ages to obtain a verdict. Then, of course, begins the process of appeals. Corrupt lawyers make hay while this sun shines. The elderly and the distant ultimately give up. Politicians and senior officials have also shamefully been in on the game for a long time, even as cops at the thana level – who ought to be first-responders when the actual grab is taking place – take their cut to turn a blind eye, or mess up the case with long term ramifications. Everybody has their own unsavoury tale to tell.

So, what is civil society waiting for – some ex-serviceman to pull out his gun and drop some of these types dead? It is only a sense of discipline and a misplaced faith in the system that prevents them from doing so. In earlier times, the local unit of the armed forces often came to the help of the aggrieved, but that confidence in the cause no longer exists. It will be a long time before the judiciary gets its act together and resolves issues in a reasonable period of time. What is required is proactive policy formulation by the government after a close examination of the problems that ensures the right to property remains sacrosanct through water-tight arrangements, both, legally and on the security front. At this moment in time, those vulnerable should make it an election issue to be raised with the ones who coming knocking at the door for votes.