Law

Information Panel Steps in to Protect Property Owners From Fraud

Court orders and executive decisions made by states’ stamp and registration departments all want such fraudulent transfer cases declared ‘null and void’.

Stacked pile of files. (Representative image) Credit: Reuters

Stacked pile of files. (Representative image) Credit: Reuters

In a significant ruling that seeks to protect the rights of genuine property owners against fraudsters, the Andhra Pradesh Information Commission has directed the Registration & Stamps Department of the Telangana government to urge the state government to issue detailed guidelines to the registration authorities for stopping fraudulent registrations. But while some states have acted to ensure that the victims of property fraud do not have to do the rounds of the courts for several years, the move only inches toward a solution. A comprehensive mechanism is needed to guard citizens against such crimes, not only in particular states but also across the country.

The direction, issued by Chief Information Commissioner M. Ratan, came on a petition by advocate Mohammad Razzak Ali Khan, who pleaded that there is an urgent need to protect the rights of genuine property holders.

Khan complained to the commission about the public information officer (PIO) – who was also commissioner and Inspector General, Registration and Stamps, Telangana – not providing him with the information he had sought about the total number of complaints received by the department regarding fraudulent registrations between January 1, 2005 to April 7, 2016. He had also asked for information on the department’s processes for addressing the grievances of fraud victims.

The commission held that while the PIO submitted an affidavit that stated that “complete information was furnished” by the office,  it also added that“no such data was available and the aggrieved person has to initiate case against the culprits”. The fact remained that “the persons who were cheated in fraudulent registrations through impersonation or other means, did not get any relief” but ended up becoming victims.

As such the commission held that the issued needed the attention of the authorities concerned. Therefore, it held that “this type of issues shall be taken under public interest”. It added that the frauds need to be “curbed forthwith” since innocent purchasers were suffering for no fault of their own.

Ratan therefore directed that a set of detailed guidelines be issued to the registration authorities for curbing the incidence of such frauds.

Lauding the decision, Khan said “if acted upon by Telangana Government the order can help in curbing fraudulent registrations”. He said the way forward is giving innocent victims a platform to get justice without approaching the courts.

Incidentally, Khan recalled that the Tamil Nadu government had already issued a similar circular to curb the fraudulent registration of properties in 2011. The document was challenged in the Madras high court but the court upheld it citing larger public interest.

Similarly, he noted that the Delhi government had taken its cue from Tamil Nadu and issued a similar circular through its Registration and Stamp Branch. Issued in July 2016, the statement spelled out that “all such complaints of fraudulent registration received by the department have to be forwarded to the respective district registrar who shall register the same in a register of complaints relating to fraudulent registration”. All of this was to be done according to a prescribed format.

Empowered by court rulings, several states have now made it the registrars’ responsibility to act on complaints of fraudulent registrations. They have issued instructions that innocent property owners should not be made to suffer by being directed to approach courts for relief in such cases.

However, in 2013, the Gautam Budh Nagar administration in Uttar Pradesh issued instructions to the  state stamps and registration department that all cases of forgery related to the registration of land and property would be resolved by the department itself.

The idea was to ensure that the complainants did not have to approach the courts for getting relief as such cases tend to linger on for years on end. As per the instructions, a complaint against any error in the registration of a property could be made directly to the stamps department. The officials also added that the move was undertaken to reduce property-related cases in courts.

According to the guidelines contained in the order, the stamps department is fully empowered to declare a registration ‘null and void’ if it is found to be incorrect compared to the records held by the department.

The department has also been empowered to register FIRs with the police in accordance with the order, if required.

Explaining the procedure that is to be adopted for adjudicating these cases at the district level, officials said an index will be drawn up after the office received complaints from property owners. Notices will be issued to parties and witnesses in individual cases thereafter.

The order gave the department the right to declare a registration ‘null and void’ after two notices within a couple of months if the respondents failed to turn up. Such direct interventions are the need of the hour if the government wants to protect the property rights of Indian citizens.