The "land mafia" in the national capital seems to be turning its attention to non-resident Indians (NRIs) whose absence is usually long enough to grab their land and sell it illegally at whopping prices.
Four cases of unauthorised occupation of land, known in New Delhi as land grabbing, that Delhi Police are investigating show how well-off NRIs, mostly settled in the US and Britain, are falling easy prey to such gangs.
Police officials say the land mafia - mostly a bunch of unscrupulous real estate agents - form a well-organised network to keep a close watch on the lands and properties of those NRIs who hardly visit the city.
"The land mafia has formed a complex web including government and bank officials to keep a tab on people who rarely visit their properties back home," a senior Crime Branch official said.
The mafia not only sells such land with forged documents but also puts NRIs in trouble by obtaining bank loans against their property.
Statistics available with police show that at least 14 cases of grabbing and selling of land owned by NRIs - mostly in upmarket areas of south Delhi - have been registered in the past three years.
Explaining the modus operandi, an official said the culprits keep in touch with the contacts of NRIs in order to know about their visits and the duration of their stay in Delhi. They also study the status of their properties.
"Through these contacts, the mafia finds the person in whose name the initial conveyance deed - a legal document signed and delivered to effect a transfer of property and to show the legal right to possess it - has been executed by the NRI or the caretaker of the property here. After that the person is lured by the mafia with hefty amounts."
In most cases, the person is a property dealer who resides only a little distance away from the property. This person is first lured into the mafia loop, say police.
"As the original conveyance deed doesn't bear the photograph of the actual owner or NRI, the newcomer in the mafia group executes a general power of attorney (GPA) in favour of a property dealer of the mafia. They also spend hefty amounts in paying stamp duty," the official told IANS.
After completing the paper work, the mafia creates confidence in a prospective buyer, showing him the rosy picture that this particular property is available for a throwaway price. Sometimes the buyer is told that the owner needs money for his medical expenses or foreign trips.
Another modus operandi the mafia adopts is showing the prospective buyer a fake agreement and the receipt of a hefty amount as proof that the property has been sold off.
"Through such means they receive a hefty amount from a prospective buyer. If things become apparent to the buyer, they threaten him with dire consequences and while returning his money ask him to compromise on a much lesser amount," said another senior police official.
"It has also been noticed that such properties are mortgaged with banks for big loans."
"Banks are also sluggish in getting a case registered, as they report the matter after a gap of more than four or five years. Such attitude on the part of bank officials adversely affects the prospects of a case and apprehending the accused persons," the official added.