MADHYA PRADESH has never seen such a sustained and coordinated crackdown on organised, white collar crime since the state came into being in 1956. Of course, there have been sporadic and selective campaigns against mafias, particularly land-grabbers, under previous governments but they evoked more cynicism than trust in the state’s people.
Razing down of the illegal Raj Tower in Indore under Digvijay Singh’s rule or Minal Residency of Bhopal under the Shivraj Singh government may have earned public encomium for the previous chief ministers but the actions proved a flash in the pan. Land mafias were not deterred by such limited demolitions. The mafia-bureaucracy-politician nexus continued to thrive.
Kamal Nath is the first Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister who seems seriously intent upon breaking the nexus. The sustained anti-mafia operations since November last year have not only generated public admiration in his sincerity of purpose but have also narrowed a trust-deficit in the official machinery working under him.
The Chief Minister had to patiently bide time for political situation in Madhya Pradesh to get favourable enough for him to crack the whip. When he took over as Chief Minister 14 months ago, his detractors in the ousted BJP cast serious doubts on Kamal Nath’s understanding of the state, its people and the issues he was supposed to grapple with.
The tag of ‘an outsider” was bandied about as a serious handicap for the new Chief Minister. The suspicion was not without basis. In his four-decade long parliamentary career, the nine-time Lok Sabha member from Chhindwara preferred backroom manoeuvrings in the national capital over rough and tumble of grassroots politics in Madhya Pradesh.
However, as he tightened his grip on the administration gradually, the ‘outsider’ tag has stood him in good stead. Being an outsider, Kamal Nath did not indulge state’s mafias—be they realtors, illegal sand minors, adulterators or education sharks. Unlike a majority of top politicians of Madhya Pradesh, both in the Congress and the BJP, the Chief Minister, by and large, stayed away from patronising organised crimes. That distance from the mafias has lent the Chief Minister adequate moral courage and political will to declare a sustained and non-partisan war on white collar criminals. His no-nonsense image has generated awe in the bureaucracy too.
EMBOLDENED by the political master’s unambiguous message to act tough against mafia, the bureaucracy has begun to deliver. Nowhere in the state is the combined might of the administration against well-entrenched land mafia more evident than in Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh. Land is costliest in Indore. Unsurprisingly, costly land has spawned a sanctuary for real estate sharks. Greedy and well connected private land developers and real estate operatives made a killing in the 15 years of the BJP rule at the expense of the poor and gullible homebuyers. Shivraj as Chief Minister for 13 long years made a lot of noise about exterminating the mafia but barring a jail term to the notorious Indore realtor Booby Chhabra, the land sharks had it easy under the BJP rule.
In May 2010, the then Chief Minister handed over possession certificates to the genuine land owners after the administration freed the land from encroachers. However, it was just a one-time show. Shivraj was apparently conscious of the political risk of antagonising his fellow party man and Indore’s “Bhai” Kailash Vijayvargiya. It is alleged that the BJP national general secretary and his cohorts have a finger in every pie in the dark underbelly of Indore.
Vijayvargiya has allegedly built a parallel empire, leveraging his position over three decades. He has been Indore’s mayor, a powerful minister in the Shivraj government for 10 years and now a trusted ally of the union Home Minister Amit Shah. Holding lucrative departments such as PWD, Urban Administration and Energy in Shivraj cabinet for close to 10 years, Vijayvargiya has had ample opportunities to interact with leading land realtors and other intrepid entrepreneurs. Most such businessmen owe their phenomenal rise in the real estate to a great extent to Vijayvargiya’spatronage. This is reportedly cited as the reason for the BJP leader getting enraged as the Kamal Nath government started tightening the noose around the land mafia.
THE controversial BJP leader was caught on a video threatening Indore’s ADM and other anti-encroachment officers of dire consequences on January 5. He was seen threatening that if RSS leaders were not in Indore at that time he would have set the city on fire. The RSS, led by its chief Mohan Bhagwat, was busy confabulating on its future course of action in Indore at that time. The incendiary statement not only betrayed the BJP leader’s ties with the land mafia but also drew fierce criticism nationwide. The police booked him for disturbing peace with an intention to cause riot.
Vijayvargiya’s fury is understandable, though not justifiable. Many in Indore, who owed their quickly acquired financial muscle to Vijayvargiya’s overt and covert support, are absconding due to police pressure. His Man Friday and MLA, Ramesh Mendola, is a known friend of Booby Chhabra and he himself has huge stakes in real estate business.
However, the Kamal Nath government seems in no mood to yield to Vijayvargiya’s, or for that matter, any body’s threats while carrying out relentless operations against mafia raj. For the Congress government, annihilating land mafia in Indore is politically expedient too. The Chief Minister is aware that Indore is a BJP citadel which he needs to breach for the Congress to strike roots. He used all panoply of administrative devices under his disposal to assess the situation before he ordered a massive crackdown on land mafia.
The operation began with unprecedented and mid-night swoop on the empire of Jitendra Soni alias Jitu. One of the two most notorious Indore personalities—the other being Booby Chhabra—Soni is into many businesses; he is a newspaper owner, hotelier, night club and bar proprietor besides land grabber. His evening newspaper SanjhaLokswami carried leaked videos of a disgraced former minister and a powerful bureaucrat in the previous Shivraj government. The crackdown on Soni’s citadel coincided with publishing of obscene audio and videos which were part of the vast material the police had seized in the operation that came to be known as honey-trap scandal. The sleazy videos were seized from five women in September last year after their attempt to blackmail an Indore municipal corporation engineer backfired.
As the police went for Soni’s jugular, his crimes surfaced with amazing rapidity. Accused in 56 FIRs against him, Soni is absconding while his son Amit is in jail. The police teams are on a hot pursuit of Chhabra and Soni, who is rumoured to have fled to Nepal. Soni and Chhabra have been friends but engaged in two different types of crimes related to land and buildings for close to three decades. Chhabra is the son of a local Congress politician.
Soni’s petition urging cancellation of 56 FIRs against him was rejected by the Supreme Court on February 3. The FIRs were lodged against him by Indore police for various crimes—from sexual exploitation of young women at his hotel ‘My Home’ to largescale illegal construction to threats held out to people and extortions from businessmen. Indore Municipal Corporation demolished his four big buildings as they were constructed on encroached land. Soni is carrying an award of Rs 1.20 lakh on his head.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatagi appeared for Soni in the Supreme Court which upheld the Madhya Pradesh government’s contention that heinous crimes of the extortion and mafia activities are filed against the accused and, therefore, his plea should not be entertained. This is the first time the state government showed courage to lay hands on Soni.
REAL estate sharks like Soni and Booby have proliferated in other towns of Madhya Pradesh too, though they are not as big as the duo. Cancerous growth of land mafia is deep-rooted. In Bhopal, Vijay Shrivastava was arrested with 21 cases against him lodged by the police. Shockingly, successive collectors, SPs, revenue commissioners and cooperative department officials chose to turn a blind eye to myriad complaints against land sharks. Obviously, the nexus of bureaucrats-politicians –mafia swayed over them. The officers thought it more lucrative to become a cog in the well-oiled wheel.
The victims of the nexus, of course, were gullible land and homebuyers. They fell for the chicanery of the land sharks and invested their life’s saving to buy a piece of land, dreaming a house of their own. They trusted cooperative housing societies that have mushroomed in all major cities over the decades as urbanisation picked up speed. However, instead of providing solutions to the growing housing demands, the societies turned into dens of corruption and litigation.
Chhabra, for instance, was controlling more than 20 such cooperative housing societies, having plots in thousands in different colonies of Indore. This scam came to light after a raid was conducted at a locked premises in Indore and several bags containing documents were unearthed. It is these victims of deceptions whose plight the Kamal Nath government has embarked upon to address. Thousands of lower and middle class citizens are now seeing a ray of hope with the Chief Minister handing over land-related documents to the genuine land owners.
“It is a dream come true,” a beaming Rajendra Kumar and Ms Nisha Garg said.
They were among the 767 beneficiaries from seven cooperative housing societies who have been restored ownership of their land to them. At a public function to mark the Republic Day, the Chief Minister first hoisted the national flag at the Nehru Stadium in Indore and then proceeded to distribute land ownership certificates to those who had almost given up hopes of ever possessing their plots of land in their lifetime.
Within a month, Indore collector Lokesh Jatav and his team dug up massive amount of records that showed illegal transactions and encroachments of real estate dealers. As the first phase of certificate distribution took place, more and more victims came up with old land documents. There are 3,000 more such cases waiting to be disposed of in Indore alone.
TERROR of the land sharks was so massive that individual plot holders were being fleeced by cooperative housing societies for more than 35 years. The mafias went about their dubious operations with impunity owing to their collusion with bureaucrats and politicians. The plot owners kept running from pillar to post to seek justice that remained elusive. The modus operandi for gobbling plots by sharks in the garb of housing societies was simple. Gullible plot purchaser would pay money to the coloniser who, in turn, would deny possession on the piece of land. The coloniser would resort to two deceptions. One, he would not get the official registry of the plot done on the pretext that some government permission was yet to be secured.
Second, the coloniser would refuse to develop the entire colony citing paucity of funds. Thus, large tracts of open land remained undeveloped in Indore city alone and its rates hit the roof. This has been a pattern in most big cities. In many cases, litigations ensued but the misery of plot holders remained un-mitigated.
There are no drainages, electricity lines and roads in such colonies. Moreover, illegal encroachment of open land by musclemen has added to the plot owners’ woes. Multiple registries of the same plot are not uncommon as the official investigation revealed. As a result, the coloniser procrastinates in developing large tracts of land to make it habitable. Significantly, most of the over 500 housing cooperatives functioning in Indore have changed hands many times. The original presidents or secretaries of the societies are missing. Plot holders with insufficient land documents are left high and dry.
On the Chief Minister’s directive, the district collectors started organising public hearings to address the plot holders’ plight. Victims of the mafia assembled in hundreds complaining against colonisers who had not honoured the commitments. This is going on all over MP. During the public hearings, it transpired that the Indore Development Authority (IDA) too cheated people by announcing its own housing schemes. It acquired land but did not start development.
MRS Urmila Modi, a widow, is among thousands of home aspirants who were cheated by land sharks. She says her husband Khyaliram Modi, wanted to build a small house on a plot bought from Mahatma Gandhi GrihNirman Society. “He waited for 30 long years but could not get the plot of land during his lifetime. I am hoping that at least now I can get a plot of land for my children”. PS Dixit, 86, a retired vice principal of the famous public school Daly College, has a similar tale of woes to tell. “Pushpavihar Colony was launched in early 1980s and I bought a plot in 1985. Later, the Scheme 171 was announced by the IDA and more than 1,200 plot holders were denied permission to build houses,” recalls Dixit. The octogenarian is still waiting for his possession and building permission.
The IDA did not build a single house, nor did the present coloniser who bought the colony from someone else. Like Dixit, another plot holder in the colony, NK Mishra says, “BJP government gave us unending mental torture but now we are grateful to Kamal Nath for bringing in a new legislation in December which would deal with such arbitrary IDA schemes.” By enacting amendment in Town and Country Act in December 2019, the Congress government has raised hopes among potential homebuyers as well as plot holders.
STATE SCAN / Madhya Pradesh / Crime / by Abhilash Khandekar