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'DNA Investigations': Double blow for Narmada oustees

The worst hit are villagers who were cheated and are not even aware that their land is now in somebody else’s name.

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A few thousand villagers in the Badwani, Dhar, Alirajpur and Khargone districts of Madhya Pradesh have been robbed of their land rights or compensation money amid a large-scale fake land registration scam in villages affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project.

It appears that the Sardar Sarovar Project has impacted not just those whose land was acquired for the dam. “The worst hit are villagers who were cheated and are not even aware that their land is now in somebody else’s name,” said Ranvir Singh, a local activist in Dhar district.

Explaining the modus operandi of a network of middlemen and junior government officers, Singh says one of the options available to oustees who find no suitable land from the government land-bank is to purchase land, register the agreement and then claim compensation upon submission of registration documents. This is where hordes of middlemen have entered the fray, taking advantage of illiterate project-affected people.

In Barwani district’s Borli village, local resident Shani Bai lamented, “The patwari took my photo and made me sign several papers. He said I would get a crop loan.” Shani Bai, like hundreds of others, found in recent months that her land had been sold without her knowledge. She is not a project-affected person.

While the Madhya Pradesh government had accepted earlier that about 700 sale deeds registered till the end of November 2007 were fake, DNA accessed statements of more than 1,500 project oustees and property owners whose land was sold off without their knowledge.

Under a 2005 scheme for those losing more than 25 per cent of their land to the dam, oustees are offered 5 acres from the state government’s land bank. If the oustee rejects this land, he is entitled to buy 5 acres and claim the compensation in two instalments – half upon application and the remainder upon submitting proof that the land was purchased and the sale deed registered.

But impoverished villagers, unable to buy land with only the first instalment, ended up becoming victims of the broker-official nexus. “We searched for land everywhere, but the cost was at least twice the money we were getting. Finally, a dalal approached me and I got both the instalments through him,” said Govind Rukhde, a villager of Nisarpur village, Dhar district, who paid Rs 1.5 lakh to this 'agent'. 

The MP High Court-appointed Justice S S Jha Commission has recorded several thousand statements in which project-affected people said they made several rounds of the NVDA office but couldn’t get even their first instalment, following which they agreed to take assistance from brokers/ patwaris in return for a share of the money -- 20% to 80% of the total compensation.

“Middlemen had access to officials, documents and surveys. They knew which oustee to approach,” said Deven Tomar, activist of Narmada Bachao Aandolan (NBA).

In a typical case, the oustee was made to sign a declaration stating he doesn’t want government land.  Middlemen then approach land-owning villagers and dupe them into signing a sale deed in return for anything between Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000. At the Justice Jha Commission’s hearings on October 4 and 5 in the Manawar Tehsil of Dhar district, several such villagers broke down upon being told they had signed away their land.

“The oustee and the seller never meet but the registry is done. Without connivance of the officials it is impossible,” said Ranvir. Eventually, a middleman takes the oustee to the NVDA office with these fake registration documents to claim the second instalment, a large sum of which is paid to the middleman.

Joint Director of NVDA AK Khare said officials had no role in this scam. “We have given the oustees money as per the stipulated guidelines. They found themselves amid the fake registry scam,” he said.

  • The scam has affected an estimated 150 villages where a variety of land frauds have taken place, including:
  • Land registered in the name of people who are not listed as oustees
  • Land sold by persons not in existence
  • Land sold by those who are not the real owners 
  • The same plot sold to more than one oustee
  • Land fraudulently sold by middlemen without the knowledge of owners
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