Construction And Land Mafia: An Intrinsic Part Of The Real Estate Industry

Posted on January 25, 2011 in Specials

By Srishti Chauhan:

Wikipedia describes ‘Mafia Raj’ as an economic and political situation where property and funds are controlled and systematically embezzled by a criminalised nexus of government officials, elected politicians and business interest groups.

Residing in India, we’d probably never need to look this definition up because it’s highly likely that we have been a part of such embezzlement- either as a victim or as the perpetrator of the scheme.

The recent Adarsh Housing Scam, which not only shamed the army but also the memories of those who died in Kargil war, has come as an eye-opener to the corruption that has infiltrated into the Indian Army. Earlier perceived to be the most uncorrupted, honest and efficient force in India, the Adarsh Housing Scam has tarnished the near perfect track record of the valiant.

The Adarsh Housing Society- meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil war heroes and battle widows-was lapped up by ministers and other powerful people at a throw-away sum. The flats, situated in Colaba (Mumbai), would have been worth Rs. 6.5-8 crores (market price) and were sold merely for Rs. 50-70 lakhs.

Construction mafia in India is not a recent phenomenon. Every scam does not attract far-reaching media interest and not each one is unveiled. Many state-funded construction activities in India, such as road building, are dominated by building mafias, which are groups of fraudulent public officials, materials suppliers, politicians and construction contractors. Shoddy construction combined with material substitution (like mixing sand in cement while submitting expenses for cement) result in roads and highways being dangerous, and most times simply washed away with the arrival of the monsoons.

Mafia thrives and flourishes because invariably the Govt. is its major payoff, in consequence, in its pocket, so all illegal transactions are sanctified and substandard constructions given the green flag, the sufferers being the common man.

In a highly contentious case, Satyendra Dubey, a project director with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), was murdered in 2003, allegedly because he had written a letter exposing deep-seated contractor mafia association in the construction of a the prominent Golden Quadrilateral project to the Prime Minister’s office.

Another victim of this nasty nexus is G.L Sethi, a London based Indian who was duped of Rs. 5.6 million by his nephew and real estate agents; Gulshan Chanana and R.P. Chabbra. He was allegedly ‘sold’ a house belonging to neither of the two in question and later forced to sign an agreement at gun point retracting all charges. Although Sethi has filed a police complaint, he wages a lonely battle. Getting constant threats by Chanana and Chabbra, both of whom have previously been accused of murder, extortion and kidnappings extensively, the man leads a distressed life.

A similar story, which is not much detached from real life, was depicted in the movie ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ in which a contractor acquires the land of an innocent man by forging documents and pulling the right strings.

Often, villagers are at the receiving end of such atrocities. Forced to sell their land at nominal prices, they are given land that is valued much less and frequently no land at all. A similar situation inspired from real life drama was depicted in the Oscar nominated movie “Peepli Live”.

In a separate and unrelated context, the Real Estate Forum of India has come up with analysis that indicates that an organized underworld is rearing its head in India’s IT hub, Bangalore. The real estate boom has resulted in the emergence of a land mafia in colossal proportions.

The real estate boom sparked off by the IT revolution in Bangalore has led to the rise of a land mafia in the city.

How long is the ‘Jungle Raj’ going to persist in India? For how long will corruption be an intrinsic part of any construction? Can the safety and civil liberties of millions of lives be traded for a handful of riches?

Focused vigilance in specific areas by government agencies has acted as a deterrent to land mafia activities in cases detected far and few. The land mafia in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi, was reported to have illegitimately begun carving out plots for commercial sale on land identified by the Central Zoo Authority of India as the site for India’s first Night Safari park. Post media coverage of this unlawfulness, vigorous legal action by the Greater Noida Authority reportedly led to this mafia alliance backing away from this theft.

The ‘Goonda Raj’ is intrinsic to every activity in the country. Mafia, be it land or construction, actually came into existence after the liberalization of various laws during the Narasimha Rao regime in the nineties. With corruption rampant, the lack of power in the hands of the common man, the construction and land mafia in India are not likely to cave in any time soon. Stringent implementation of laws, lucidity in government transactions and relentless action against the culpable are the need of the hour. Moreover, an empowering Right to Information Act and less red-tapeism will make the state of affairs a lot superior relative to their existing echelon.