SC says land scams persistent issue, cancels pre-arrest bail of accused

bserving that land scams have been a “persistent issue” leading to an erosion of “public trust”, the Supreme Court on Friday cancelled the anticipatory bail of a person who is accused of creating fake documents to usurp land worth more than Rs 60 crore of an NRI couple.

A bench comprising justices Surya Kant and C T Ravikumar set aside a May 31 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court granting anticipatory bail to a person accused of creating fake general power of attorney (GPA) in 1996 to take away the land of NRI Pratibha Manchanda and her husband in a village at Gurugram.

“Land scams in India have been a persistent issue, involving fraudulent practices and illegal activities related to land acquisition, ownership, and transactions. Scammers often create fake land titles, forge sale deeds, or manipulate land records to show false ownership or an encumbrance free status,” the bench said.

“Organised criminal networks often plan and execute these intricate scams, exploiting vulnerable individuals and communities, and resorting to intimidation or threats to force them to vacate their properties. These land scams not only result in financial losses for individuals and investors but also disrupt development projects, erode public trust, and hinder socio-economic progress,” it said.

It expanded the scope of the ongoing probe in an FIR lodged by the NRI couple and asked the Gurugram Police Commissioner to set up an SIT headed by an officer, who is not below the rank of a deputy superintendent of police, to conclude the probe in two months.

“Given the facts and circumstances of this case, we expand the scope of inquiry in these proceedings and direct the Commissioner of Police, Gurugram to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to be headed by an officer not below the rank of Dy. Superintendent of Police along with two Inspectors as its members,” it ordered.

“The SIT shall take over the investigation forthwith. The SIT shall have the liberty to subject Respondent No. 2, the vendee(s) (purchaser), the Sub Registrar/officials, or other suspects to custodial interrogation to arrive at a definite conclusion, strictly in accordance with law,” the bench ordered.

The police commissioner will be personally responsible for monitoring the day to day investigation, it said.

The bench said if the vendees and the officers of the registering authority have secured anticipatory bail from sessions court or the high court, the SIT “shall be at liberty to seek suitable modifications to such orders so that no impediment is caused in carrying out a fair and free investigation”.

The top court restrained the civil court, which is seized of a related lawsuit on the issue, from passing any order which may obstruct the ongoing investigation.

“The Civil Court shall not, from this point forth, pass any such order in pending civil suits which may hamper the ongoing investigation,” it ordered.

The bench also ordered authorities in Delhi to extend full cooperation in the matter of verification of the genuineness of the GPA alleged to have been registered in the office of Sub Registrar, Kalkaji, New Delhi, in 1996.

According to the plea, seeking cancellation of bail, the GPA was allegedly executed in 1996 and till date it has not been presented before any court or authority by the accused who claimed to purchase the land by paying more than Rs 6 crore to the NRI couple.

The couple said they were not in India when the alleged transaction took place and moreover, they have received compensation from the government for a part of the land which was acquired for a public purpose.

“We must keep in mind that the subject land is a prime property situated in the National Capital Region. Even in the year 1996, its value must have been quite significant. The 2nd Respondent has so far not been able to show payment of any consideration to the appellants in 1996,” the bench said while cancelling the bail.

The original GPA is conspicuous by its absence, it said, adding, “We fail to understand or comprehend as to how a bona fide purchaser could pay crores of rupees as sale consideration to a person who neither possesses documents showing ownership and title nor has original GPA of the true owner(s) of the property being sold.”

The court also took note of the fact that the sale deed was allegedly executed without mentioning the PAN Number or without deducting TDS, underlining the dubious nature of this transaction.

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“We are equally intrigued at the behaviour of the registering authorities and their acceptance of the conveyance deed in the absence of these formalities being completed. The Sub-Registrar and his officials were obligated to verify the ownership rights before registration of the sale deed,” it said.

According to the the appellants’ claim, the prior original sale deeds of the land are still in their possession it said.

The fact that the vendee agreed to pay such massive sums of money without obtaining the original records as of now casts a shadow over the legitimacy of the transaction, it said.

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