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Open Features: Cheated Out Of Properties

The property experiences of Non-Resident Indians in the land of their birth can put any horror film to shame, wrote journalist Kul Bhushan.

An NRI couple from USA came to Mumbai on vacation and when they visited their ancestral farm, the illegal occupiers refused to vacate the land. The NRI was brutally beaten, his wife sexually molested and hounded out of their property grabbed by the neighbours.

Although the numbers do not reveal the full harassment, no less than 3,000 NRIs are caught in land disputes in Punjab. US-based NRIs owning properties in Kolkata, New Delhi, Chandigarh and Kerala have been struggling fruitlessly for over two decades to recover their properties without any hope so far. NRIs from every state in India residing in every country can recount their horrendous tales of their ancestral property or their own holdings illegally grabbed, occupied and confiscated by their relatives, friends or agents.

Estate developers and agents have duped NRIs because of insufficient inspection of all the relevant property documents. Suppressed encumbrances and defective ownership titles, have led to complications, even in the case of resident buyers. Even Deeds of Registration showing false titles have been found to be forged because proper searches of the title ship records of the preceding 30-40 years, kept in the offices of Registration Department, are not commissioned by the buyers, through their lawyers, according to Mr M. M. Maheshweri, Co-Chairman of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Task Force.

NRIs are particularly vulnerable to such malpractices, because of the lack of time, knowledge and, proper legal support at their disposal. Can we think of formulating comprehensive central guidelines, to help them take all the necessary steps, before finalising their property deals? This would perhaps avert future hazards, created not by the illegal grabbers of NRI property, but by the fraudulent property dealers, who exploit the NRI unsuspecting credulousness.

Their unceasing harassment, and seemingly endless struggle, to extricate their fraudulently grabbed property, from the clutches of local tormentors, through the cobwebs of Law Courts, surrounded by a maze of legal labyrinths, packaged as the "due process of the Indian Judicial System" turns them away from India. This saga of our unrelieved pain leaves us befuddled, dismayed and distressed, added Mr Maheshweri.

Enough is enough and so GOPIO held a special panel during its annual conference in New Delhi. Some legal experts were invited to give heir advice and opinions to try and find workable solutions. The aim was to devise a way out, to resolve the property issues of the NRIs within the parameters of the Indian legal system. Indian law does not provide ready recourse to an NRI; so a special judicial dispensation for NRI property problems is desperately needed. A number of special courts and tribunals have been set up to deal with specialized cases, so why not a Fast Track court or tribunal for NRIs to resolve their property disputes? NRIs lose out because the Indian legal system takes years, if not decades, to pronounce judgments on cases and the system is overloaded with millions of pending cases that would take decades to clear.

After the highly emotional session during which a number of NRIs recalled their horror stories with dismay, a strong resolution was passed to urge the Government of India to look into this matter. A large number of NRIs wrote back to GOPIO with their property woes after this resolution was published in its newsletter last month. The Chairman of this Task Force, Prof. Subash Sharma of Southern Illinois University, referred some of them to lawyers in New Delhi. Last week, the Task Forces sent a strong letter to the Indian Law Minister to look into this matter with a copy to the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs urging them to act on GOPIO Resolution quickly due to the urgency of the problem.

Whether it a hereditary, residential, or commercial property,one of the main reason for these scams is that the NRIs are at a great disadvantage that they can not contest court cases in India. The civil case takes 15-20 years and for a criminal case the plaintiff need to be present on every court date in India which is impossible for any NRI. So they suffer silently.

A NRI was getting legal notices for over two years to pay the dues of the cooperative society for his prime flat on Juhu Beach, Mumbai, as his tenant refused to pay neither dues nor the rent. When served with a final notice, he travelled to Mumbai to sort out the matter. The tenant flatly refused to vacate, pay rent or the dues. He offered to buy the flat at one tenth of the market price. Here was an offer the NRI could not refuse because unless he sold the flat, he would face a court case.

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