Friday, October 14, 2011

Strange laws and justice stranger still



What is the purpose of law? Is it to control or to create complications? Is it to deliver justice or pave the way for corrupt dealings?

The way some of the the Law and the Government works, with regard to property is a case in point. The same Govt. mechanism that goes through the process of registering Sale deeds, Pani, Property taxes, Land Records, title of property with sci-fi names like Mutation records etc. one day decides that the registration of your property is not valid. The property you own does not belong to you. Why? Because at some point in the last 80 years or so, this particular land was gifted to a member of the Backward community and now his children or even great grand children have come to stake their claim on it. And stranger still, the Govt. happily informs you that your purchase of the said land and any construction on it is illegal (or null and void) and grants the claimants permission to sell it almost immediately without paying you a single Rupee. This is a law that bleeds nepotism and encourages rampant corruption. This strange law came into force in 1978, [Karnataka Schedule Caste & Schedule Tribes (PTCL) Act, 1978] but amusingly, is retrospective in nature i.e. even transactions before this law shall be null and void. Ex post facto laws (Retrospective laws) are expressly forbidden by most countries including the United States.
This law is so strange that even Wikipedia mentions it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karnataka_Scheduled_Castes_and_Scheduled_Tribes_%28Prohibition_of_Transfer_of_Certain_Lands%29_Act,_1978

This may be the only law where an appeal can be made even after 100 years. 

Your property may have changed hands once or several times, taxes may have been paid faithfully throughout this period, records confirm the property has always existed in your name for even well over 15 years; and then suddenly a claim from the past, maybe 40-60 years ago and your registration and ownership is totally gone.

Sale transaction of land is not like that of say a biscuit packet, where there may be no official record of the sale. When you talk about property there is a whole intricate process that involves Registrars, Sub-Registrars, Commissioners, Tahsildars etc. and a whole gamut of documentation. Yet all these documents become null and void because the Registrars themselves have no idea if this property belongs to the backward tribe or not. Isn’t this a gross incapacitation of a formal Govt. mechanism? Isn’t this gross negligence? Strangely the same Govt. bureau that grants the land is completely clueless as to whether this land is granted or darkasth when it is sold later. This is in spite of the fact that at the time of granting the land they have gone through a whole process of identifying land, surveying it, checking to see if it is wet or dry land and even ensuring that the recipient is from the depressed community (and in Karnataka, also ensuring that it doesn't have too many sandalwood trees with a girth of over 12”). In short, the same Govt. offices that issue lands to Backward communities are involved when the land is sold later, even though they cannot go through the process of checking if it is saleable or not.

On one hand the country talks about progress, investment and dynamic growth, on the other hand some laws enacted by the Government ensure that an investor makes a fool of himself thereby losing everything he has worked for. It must be stated that while it is important to take care of the interests of the backward communities, there must be some system in place that is progressive and efficient without making genuine buyers or investors stand to lose. 

If the Govt. fails in its duty, in view of justice and fair play, isn’t the Govt. duty bound to find appropriate alternative property or compensate affected persons for their ancestral loss and not disturb the peaceful and complete possession of the property by the current owner as Registered in the Sale Deed in front of competent authority? It is high time our laws are more progressive or will bring in reforms like the Lokpal to ensure that the  judiciary and Parliament become more answerable.

To those who plan to invest in property/houses, especially in Karnataka, please obtain an official declaration from the Govt. stating that the property you intend to buy has never ever been granted to the SC/ST community. To those who already own property, my good wishes to you. To the Govt. – it’s time to change inefficient & archaic laws- at least set a reasonable limit to the number of years for any claim to be made.  

John Grisham in his book –The Last Juror- puts the amending of laws in right perspective when he says, “Very few laws remain the same. Once enacted, they are likely to be studied, modified, amended, then often repealed altogether. This constant tinkering by judges and lawmakers is usually a good thing. Bad laws are weeded out. Weak laws are improved. Good laws are fine tuned.”