A Goa village where dead sign sale deeds

Updated on Jul 02, 2022 06:41 AM IST
Of the 45 households in the village,18 have become victim to elaborate land frauds in which personal and family histories have been distorted in meticulous detail. In the village of Badem, married men turn single; children are declared unborn; and dead men tell no tales but sign sale deeds.
As many as 18 households in the village have become victim to land frauds. (HT Photos)
As many as 18 households in the village have become victim to land frauds. (HT Photos)
ByGerard de Souza, Panaji

In February, 56-year-old systems analyst Vincent D’Souza, who works and lives in Delhi, received a phone call from his family in Goa’s Badem village. A panicked cousin was on the other end. The cousin had received a worrying call from the local panchayat representative saying that an application, filed by an unfamiliar name, was seeking permission to fence the family’s ancestral property.

D’Souza rushed home, and to his shock found that the property was now “owned” by Branca Cassiana Diniz, her son Royson Rodrigues, sister Paulina Juliana Diniz, and sister’s husband Mariano Antonio Teles Gonsalves.

According to official documents, they claimed to have inherited the land from Branca and Paulina’s father Antonio Diniz. The papers further said that Diniz bought the land from D’Souza’s grandfather Domingos D’Souza in 1934. The sale deed was elaborate, a well-designed document written in the style of Portuguese-era calligraphers, replete with officialese and regalia. The deed said that Domingos was unmarried and had no legal heirs, which is why the land was being sold to Diniz.

There were two problems with the claim. The first: in 1934, Domingos was married with four children, and a fifth on the way. And the second: Domingo had only come to own the land in 1979. It was a part of a comunidade (common) land that was allocated to him that year.

On March 28, D Souza filed a first information report (FIR), and promptly challenged the ownership change in the district collector’s court soon after. “However, despite all the paperwork, 15-20 hired goons forcibly took possession of a part of my property, occupied it, and set up a tent. Since I had already hired private security for the plot, there was a physical altercation on May 17, but they went ahead and occupied the property behind the house,” D’Souza said.

His story isn’t unique. Of the 45 households in the village,18 have become victim to elaborate land frauds in which personal and family histories have been distorted in meticulous detail. In the village of Badem, married men turn single; children are declared unborn; and dead men tell no tales but sign sale deeds.

It takes a village

Located in a valley between Anjuna and Siolim, the twin villages of Assagao and Badem were once quiet, idyllic Goan hamlets with houses set up around paddy fields that sustained their population. By the 1960s, however, some of the more affluent residents of the villages began to look outward. Many travelled to other cities in India and abroad, and their homes were shut, only to be opened a few weeks in the year when they flew down on holiday.

On June 26, the Badem parish church witnessed its first christening (a Christian naming ceremony) in more than a decade — an indication of the outward migration and an ageing population.

Over the past two decades, with prime land in other parts of Goa quickly running out, the villages began to attract the attention of buyers. Among the new buyers were film star Akshay Kumar, who has a beach-facing villa in Anjuna; and cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, who bought a villa with a large lawn and a pool in 2017. Prices skyrocketed as demand increased, changing the landscape to fields dotted with swank Goan-style villas.

But along with the buyers came the sharks and land-grabbers, following the scent of rising prices that have gone up from 2,000 to 3,000 per square metrein 2000 to 50,000 to 60,000 per square metre in 2022 .

Locals allege that when such incidences are unearthed, and complaints are filed, there are delays in the registration of cases. D Souza’s police complaint, for example, was made on March 28, but a case was registered only on June 14.

The impact of fraud is clearly visible in the peculiar air that hangs in the village. Homes with Goan architecture and mango orchards now have boards that spill on to neat, well-planned roads that meet at right angles. “Private property not for sale. Trespassers will be prosecuted,” some say. Others go a step further and add who the property belongs to, as well as their contact details, as villagers search for solutions to ward off fraudsters that show prospective buyers the property.

The boards have good reason to be there.

Take the instance of the land owned by the Cardozo family of Badem, consisting of six siblings — Justo, Luiza, Anthony, Jerome, Iva, and Marialena. When they checked with the registrar in the aftermath of the D’Souza case which became the talk of the village, a sale deed mysteriously appeared, dating to the year 1996, claiming that their father Inacio and uncle Cyprias had sold their land — two plots of 4,600 sq m and 800 sq m — to Antoneta Fernandes and her husband Dominic Fernandes. The problem — Inacio de Souza died in 1985, and Cyprias in 1993.

Then there is the story of Eleuterio Carvalho, an octogenarian bachelor, who lives alone with a dog, battling to save his family property of 5,900 square metres owned by his mother Maria Joaquina Carvalho and co-owner Maria Antonia de Sa. A sale deed, also made in 1996, says that they were a married couple that sold their property to Antonio Diniz. Except that Antonia and Joaquina are both women, and not directly related.

As a spate of these cases come to light, the village has decided to fight back.

On April 17, they called a meeting at the parish church, and asked each resident to check the status of their land and property. “We are a village of 45 families, of whom 18 families are victims of a land-grab operation,” said advocate Christina Dias, a resident who has rallied the villagers to come together and fight their cases. They now hold regular meetings on Sunday after the religious service at the church to discuss the way forward.

While Vincent’s family property, measuring 18,600 sq metres, is the largest of the lot to be under the scanner, the villagers, through their discussions with the state revenue offices and the archives department, discovered the fraudulent sale deeds for the 18 plots had four years in common — 1934, 1951, 1994 and 1996 — when these plots are meant to have been sold.

“These sale deeds are a clear case of forgery, and the registers have been messed with. The inserted deeds are not bound like the rest of the register but are loose pages. The serial numbers are not followed and the dates are not in chronological order,” Dias said. “In the case of the sale deeds of 1934 and 1951 the archives department has said that such documents are not found in the official records,” she added.

What the probe found

On June 16, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant announced the setting up of a special investigation team (SIT) to probe fraudulent land deals.

“Goa being one of the most sought after destinations has been the target of such criminals involved in illegal land grabbing. We will leave no stone unturned to protect the land of Goa and the interest of Goans,” Sawant said at the time.

“We have come across some cases of such illegal land transfers hence we have constituted the team to take swift action in such matters. I appeal to the people to come forward and approach the SIT to report on illegal land grabbing/transfer cases,” he added.

Two days later, SIT made its first arrest — Vikrant Shetty, one of the prime accused in the case of the demolition of the ancestral home of Stanley D’Souza in Badem village in March, after a “new owner” sold the land to builders. The new owner was Shetty, according to police.

Stanley’s cousin and public prosecutor with the Goa government, Roy D’Souza’s property was also sold after forging sale deeds. Shetty was again involved. Police officers said that he inserted his name as the owner of at least four properties in fraudulent sale deeds. Shetty was in police custody for five days, before he got bail on June 24.

HT reached out to Shetty for a comment but his lawyer said they had none to offer for now.

Two others, Diresh Naik and Shivanand Madkaikar, staffers at the department of archives have been accused of removing registers from the department, and handing them over to the accused to facilitate the forgery. They were arrested on June 24; Naik got bail on June 28, and Shivanand on June 29.

“SIT that has been probing the issue has found a total of 92 fraud property deals that have come to light so far in which the people who are arrested are involved in. We will publicise these survey numbers and send the details to the revenue officials so that no further sale deeds or property transfers or conversion can be carried out on these properties,” Sawant said on June 20.

Large-scale fraud

A police officer familiar with the development said that they have found so far that a total of 169,000 square metres of property worth 900 crore has fraudulently changed hands, primarily in north Goa’s Bardez tehsil.

There are 18 instances in Badem, and 22 instances in Assagao — the larger village bordering Badem that is now recognised as Goa’s Beverly Hills. Together, the two villages account for 40 of the 69 cases of fraudulent sales that have been found so far in the Bardez tehsil.

Of these, the present-day descendants of Antonio Diniz — Branca Rodrigues, Royson Rodrigues, Paulina Diniz and Mariano Teles Gonsalves — have allegedly cornered 53,775 sq m of land, or one-third of the land under investigation across the villages of Badem and Assagao.

Royson Rodrigues, the son of the now-deceased Branca Rodrigues remains at large, as do other suspects such as Antoneta Fernandes and her son Sandric, who also ended up owing substantial properties.

Superintendent of police, crime branch, Nidhin Valsan, said that they have asked Royson to join the probe but he is yet to do so.

“We are interrogating those accused in our custody to find out the modus operandi and to help identify the extent of the problem. The investigation is at a preliminary stage,” Valsan, who heads the SIT, said.

Local residents said that the criminal investigation is only one part of the problem though. “The criminal side of the investigation has been progressing well even though it is only around ten days old. That is one side of the problem, but on the other hand we are made to fight civil cases to revert the properties back in the names of the original owners,” said lawyer Augustus Monteiro, who began helping the villagers reclaim their lands only to realise that his own family land was sold using a fraudulent deal.

“Our question to the government is are all these fake deeds on the basis of which property ownership was changed in the land records, going to be allowed to stand or are they going to be quashed through government fiat instead of us having to individually reclaim our lands?” Monteiro asked.

Sawant said on June 26that the Goa government is considering a law under which the properties which were subject to fraud and have no legitimate claimants would vest with the government until a rightful heir is identified. Through this law, he said, the government is considering to return fraudulently sold properties with original owners.

For now, though, Badem’s residents hope their solidarity, and the boards on the village’s quiet streets, can protect the land they hold so dear.

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