Meet a prisoner king in his Rs 18-crore palace

Man refuses to budge from crumbling ancestral bungalow in Bandra despite life threats, reports Gigil Varghese.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 15:33 IST

Every day they come calling for 80-year-old Domingo Santos. Years and cobwebs have been closing in on him, and now the people who want him out of his decrepit Bandra bungalow have moved up to his doorstep.

At Santos Villa, two security guards (employed by real estate dealers who want his house) stand at the gate. Inside, three men sleep in the verandah. They have made the bungalow their permanent address.

His fault: Living alone in the house of his forefathers, he is sitting on ap proximately Rs 18 crore worth real estate on Chapel Road.

“They are here to mentally torture me and pressure me into leaving this place. They do not let anybody inside the bungalow. They threaten to strangulate me if I do not leave,” said a frail Santos, who was once a football player and was employed with the BEST before he moved to New York in 1965.

But the gritty, old man refuses to budge. “This is the place of my ancestors, and I will not hand it over to goons,” he said, face wrinkling up a little more in resolve.

Santos has been held hostage in his 77-year-old bungalow — which stands on a 522 square metre plot — for more than two years now. The property is now covered with tin sheets, a common scene in the Queen of Suburbs where one bungalow is pulled down every week on an average to make way for a multi-storied structure.

“The electricity and water connection to the bungalow was cut off. However, with the help of some locals I got it fixed,” said Santos, adding that he had just one bulb in one of the rooms. “They even stole some of my documents, including my US social security card. They messed up my house. They even held a double-barrel gun to my head and said they would kill me if I did not heed their demands,” he said.

Santos was divorced 50 years ago. His children are US citizens but they do not keep in touch. In fact, he does not even know how and where exactly they are. He had two brothers in the US and a sister in Mumbai who are not interested in the property. One of the brothers has died. Their children are American citizens too, and have not kept in touch.

Additional Commissioner of Police Bipin Bihari said: “I was not aware of the case. We will not let anybody be harassed like this. We will take appropriate action.”

When the rear of the bungalow came crashing down in 2004, local real estate agent Jeremiah D’Souza, convinced Santos he should get the bungalow repaired.
“He showed him plans for the interior and got me to sign several papers. I am old, how can I go through a bunch of papers? I trusted him since I know him for several years,” said Santos, who worked in a synagogue in New York for 27 years and was given a social security card for his service.

The papers signed by Santos was a deed of conveyance signed in favour of D’Souza and his company Messers Phoenix Real Estates for a consideration of Rs 35 lakh.

The money was then deposited at Corporation Bank on Hill Road. Santos had written a letter to the bank to freeze the bank account; a copy of the letter is with Hindustan Times.

“When I realised the fraud, I went to the notary and got an affidavit which stated that the deed was fraudulently executed and hence it was null and void. I also issued a notice in the newspapers,” said Santos.

He had also written a letter to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) asking them not to clear any construction plan. He has written letters to the Deputy Chief Minister and the Police Commissioner, and lodged several police complaints.

“Whenever I go for an FIR, the cops register it as a non-cognizable (NC) offence,” said Santos. An NC means that the police have recorded the incident but will not take any action against the offenders or investigate the case.

However, D’Souza said Santos was levelling allegations against him because he had the consent decree in his favour. He added that HT had no authority to question him and hence he was not answerable.

“D’Souza has now entered into a deal with a developer, just to mess up the issue further,” said Advocate Meghraj Khatanhar, who Santos managed to rope in with help from social activists.

He said he had relevant papers and would approach the high court once it opened after the vacations. He is trying to get a court receiver appointed for the plot.

Meanwhile, Santos Villa looks straight out of a ghost flick. Papers and fabric are strewn all over the house.

In one corner is the altar, which is covered by a dusty, white satin cloth with “God bless our home” embroidered on it. The picture in the frame has turned brown and has merged with the cardboard, which is placed in a frame to hold the picture.

Behind the bungalow is small courtyard with a chickoo tree full of fruit. Here, Santos ran a poultry farm once. Now, there are a few hens in the compound, which run helter-skelter when they see you approaching.

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 15:33 IST