Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mother of all land scams has blown in the face of KCR government in Telangana

The illegal deal is reported to have caused a loss of Rs 587 crore to the state exchequer.

Just a week after K Chandrasekhar Rao claimed no government land in Telangana had passed on to private hands, the chief minister is on the back foot. It has now come to light that Telangana Rashtra Samiti senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP Kesava Rao's family purchased 50 acres of land in Hafeezpur village in Ibrahimpatnam mandal near Hyderabad.

An internal audit that was undertaken in March revealed that 38 of the 50 acres belong to the government, all reportedly forest land.

Kesava Rao's daughter Vijaya Laxmi, daughter-in-law Nava Jyothi and one Jyotsna purchased the land in 2013 which was registered three years later. Incidentally, Vijaya Laxmi is also a politician and a TRS corporator in Hyderabad. The delay was on account of the then sub-registrar of Ibrahimpatnam, Madhusudhan Reddy, rejecting the application to register the land because it was government land.

The family went to the Hyderabad High Court in December 2015 naming the sub-registrar, tehsildar and district collector of Ranga Reddy district as respondents. Going on the offensive, the three potential buyers asked the court to declare the action of the respondents in not registering the sale deed in favour of the petitioners as highly illegal.

BJP National Executive member and former health minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nagam Janardhan Reddy, points out that according to the high court website, the case is still pending, as on June 1, 2017. But Kesava Rao claims that the court gave directions on which the registration is effected.''

The registration did happen, with an incharge sub-registrar Saleha Qadeer greenlighting it. The land was being sold by the private firm which through a clutch of companies under Goldstone Infra Limited umbrella, claimed to own 2,000 acres in Ibrahimpatnam mandal. And it was on the basis of those documents, which are now suspected to be forged, that 50 acres were sold to Kesava Rao's family.

The question that however arises is that if Kesava Rao's transaction was legally clear, why was Qadeer suspended after the audit revealed this transaction.
Now Kesava Rao's alleged shady transaction is only one part of the deal. The lid was blown off this mother of all land scams in Telangana when the audit revealed that the Kukatpally sub-registrar in Hyderabad had got 696 acres of government land to private real estate concerns. The illegal deal is reported to have caused a loss of Rs 587 crore to the state exchequer.

The kingpin behind this scam is PS Prasad, popularly referred to as Goldstone Prasad due to the name of his company, Goldstone Infratech. This firm along with Trinity Infratech and Suvishal Power Generators got this land transferred in their name. Incidentally, Prasad is also reported to have been involved in investment scams in the US in the 1980s.

Prasad's modus operandi was to target lands belonging to descendants of the Nizam of Hyderabad. He had done his history homework well. Subsequent to the merger of Hyderabad with the Indian Union in September 1948, these properties were taken over by the government and recorded in a blue book.

Initial investigation as part of the audit reveals that many of these properties were clandestinely transferred into the names of companies owned by PS Prasad and his men.

In fact, in June 2015, a complaint was filed with revenue minister Mahmood Ali by Hameedunnissa Begum, who claimed to be a descendent of the Paigah nobles who were people of influence during the Nizam's rule. In her complaint, she accused Prasad of having forged documents of her lands in Ranga Reddy district and said the district registrar had confirmed the forgery. Yet, Mahmood Ali turned a blind eye to the fraud happening under his own nose. The question arises: why isn't the minister being shown the door?

Opposition parties are convinced that the scam has political cover. Prasad has been seen in the company of one of the secretaries to a senior minister in the KCR cabinet. One of his relatives is posted as an officer in the Chief Minister's Office.

KCR has tried to do damage control by ordering monitoring of activities in all 142 sub-registrar offices by the anti-corruption bureau. It has taken away the discretionary powers of the sub-registrars as well besides booking cases against the realtors and arresting their promoters.

But Prasad continues to be absconding, despite the case handed over to the CID. The opposition wants the CBI to probe this scam, which it alleges runs into Rs 50,000 crore.

What those in power are doing now is selectively leak some names to settle scores,'' says Kodandaram of the Telangana Joint Action Committee, referring to news about Kesava Rao coming out in the public domain. They are not allowing the agencies to deal with the case in accordance with the law. What has come to light so far is only the tip of the iceberg.

A TDP MLC Deepak Reddy has also been arrested on allegations of forging documents of government land in and around Hyderabad. He is believed to be using strong-arm tactics and muscle power to bully his way with occupants on the land he eyed to get them to vacate it. Reddy is the son-in-law of TDP MP JC Diwakar Reddy, another indication of how the high and the mighty cutting across party lines have allegedly used their clout to indulge in land grabbing.

But will the CID and the ACB be able to stem the rot, given any fair probe will unearth a whole lot of political connections?

Representatives of officials at the ground level - the sub-registrars, land surveyors, village revenue officers, mandal revenue officers - have submitted a representation to the Telangana government seeking police protection. They allege unidentified persons are calling up and threatening them if they provide any details to the sleuths.

The scam has blown in the face of the Telangana government at a time when it completed three years in power. It is imperative for the CID to track down Prasad at the earliest because given the immense political clout of some of those involved, his life could well be under threat.

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