Land grabbers in TN a law unto themselves

They claimed that a portion of the land belongs to them. When I questioned them, they damaged the CCTV cameras and attacked me,” says Abraham. 

CHENNAI : Pooling your life’s savings to buy a piece of land in Tamil Nadu may be easier than protecting it from land grabbers who have adopted multiple tactics to usurp them. Several victims TNIE spoke to across the state said their land was illegally taken over or they were forced into protracted legal battles. From using loopholes to direct intimidation, land grabbers are even able to track down owners with the help of officials in the revenue department who are hand in glove with the touts. 

One such victims is K T Abraham from Nagercoil, a 64-year-old senior citizen who co-owns a property with his brother. On January 5, he noticed a group of men in front of his property. “A local man whom I’ve known for a while showed up on my property with five lawyers and five henchmen. They claimed that a portion of the land belongs to them. When I questioned them, they damaged the CCTV cameras and attacked me,” says Abraham. 

“They threatened to kill me if I don’t do as they say. I lodged a complaint at the Kottar police station. The police booked them, but no arrests have been made yet,” he added. Speaking to TNIE, a senior police officer said that owners need to be vigilant and engage relatives or friends whom they can trust to look after the land. 

Land grabbers, backed by officials, locate victims

“Most of the real estate agents are from local areas who know every land. When they have a prized possession that is not looked after for a long time, they use every means to obtain it,” said the officer.
In May 2022, then Tambaram police commissioner M Ravi had said they receive at least 20 land grabbing complaints everyday. Sources from Chennai city police and Avadi city police said that they receive at least 15 to 20 complainants daily.

Most of the victims are those who have settled elsewhere and unaware of ground realities. S Amutha, 59, from Kumbakonam, owned a two-acre land. After marriage, she moved with her husband to Bhopal in 2002, and shifted to different locations depending on her husband’s work. In 2022, when she returned, she found that the land was encroached by a builder.

“We did not know anyone in the locality. We got the land for farming purposes and were shocked to see the name of a real estate agency on it. After receiving an encumbrance certificate, we learned that the land had been exchanged with several people in the course of three years before coming into the hands of the real estate agency,” said Amutha.

A few days after lodging a police complaint, she received intimidating phone calls from strangers. “They asked us to back down. But we moved court and proceedings are on. Every now and then some men would appear in front of our house,” said Amutha.

Land grabbers, backed by revenue and police officials, are able to locate victims through the database. They target land that are not looked after for many years. Since there is no special act against land grabbing, police use different IPC sections. Over the years, the problem has increased, especially in suburban areas where development is booming.

F Govindaraj* (name changed), a techie from Chennai, inherited a land of 2,400 square feet in Kancheepuram from his late father. In 2010, he got a job offer in London and moved with his family. “I returned to Kancheepuram in 2019. To my shock I found that the construction of a building was underway on the land I owned,” said Govindaraj. He went to the registrar’s office and police station, but he was allegedly ridiculed by officials. “They said here documents don’t mean a thing and it was up to me to protect the land,” he said.

Govindaraj filed a case in court and proceedings are underway. The police have booked a man who forged documents, but others are still absconding. While the construction of the building has been halted, Govindaraj says this could not have been done without the backing of revenue officials.
Police added, recently cases have dropped due to digitalisation of property registrations. However, land owners who got properties five years back are advised to check on their properties in regular intervals.
Kowsar Parveen from Neelankarai owned a 4,800 sq ft land in Pallikaranai and Sadhasivam from Anna Nagar owned a 2,400 sq ft land in Madhavaram.

“Both the lands were usurped by three men. They noticed that the land was not in use for a long time. Since the land was registered before 2010, there were no photographs or biometrics. They faked documents and hired two people to pose as Parveen and Sadasivam. With the help of revenue staff, they changed the power of attorney and took over the land worth `5 crore,” said a police source.

They immediately sold the land. The issue came to light in 2023 when the duo returned to the country to check on the piece of land. The accused were remanded in judicial custody. In Dharmapuri, two sisters who owned two acres of land were forced to sell their land at a throwaway price. “We got the land from my parents. We moved to Hyderabad after marriage.

My sister started to receive calls from people and soon I got too. They threatened to sell the land. Again, a few months later, another person contacted us to purchase the land for the price we had fixed. But soon, he too backed out saying he received threat calls,” said the 54-year-old woman under anonymity. Due to constant intimidation and fear of life, they sold the property for a meagre `30 lakh, when the original value of the property was Rs 2 crore.

‘Frequent visits help’
Regular visits and getting encumbrance certificates can keep grabbers at bay. Grabbing can be stopped by revenue offices, but as some staff are hand in glove with touts, tackling it has become difficult for owners, say police. 

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