Lots in a Name

Aug 14, 2013, 01:13 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

A week ago, a clutch of citizens came together in suburban Mumbai calling for greater transparency in getting property transferred in the name of their legal heirs. While their problems still need to be addressed, they claim their protest has helped raise awareness among property owners

Recently 30 frustrated land owners and concerned citizens gathered outside the City Survey Office, in Santacruz (W). Holding banners that read ‘stop dalalgiri at the City Survey Office’ and ‘certified copies of plan and property cards should be given within three workings days and not one month’, protestors stood silently outside the City Survey Office, and protested against fraudulent land transfer, while transferring property in the name of their legal heirs. The protestors accused the City Survey Officers of demanding bribes and engaging in the alteration of land records.

Fighting for change: Nicholas Almeida (centre) with the protestors, gathered outside the City Survey Office, Vile Parle. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The 40-minute silent protest rally was organized by a Mumbai-based Non-governmental Organization (NGO), Watchdog Foundation, spearheaded by ex-municipal corporator Nicholas Almeida (56), who says, “When you are a legal heir and you want s name transferred on your property card, you have to provide a number of certificates. This procedure generally takes around two months. But today, sadly we find that, the City Survey Office has been taken over by dalals (brokers), who are illegal. These dalals have a strong foothold in the office; a common man may have to give up his lifetime of savings, but yet, he won’t get his name transferred on the property card.” Almeida accuses the City Survey Office of rampant corruption. He says that instead of asking the common man what is the problem, officers ask them, ‘and how much can you give me?’

S R Wani, City Survey Officer, Vile Parle explains, “The protestors are talking about cases related to the Airports Authority of India and a case that was refused in 2009. These are very old cases. For this, there is a provision by the law, where they could have gone to the head office of the Land Records. I am not even sure if they have registered an appeal. In one of the cases that they mentioned, an inquiry is ongoing. Before the inquiry is concluded, they are accusing us of wrongdoings. If they feel that something wrong has happened, they can appeal.”

The officer flatly denied corruption, and that people have been trying to get their names transferred since many years. Wani says, “I have not come across anyone who has been coming to the survey for eight or nine years. There is no corruption or dalalgiri going on in this office. These protestors haven’t even provided a proper appeal, without which we can’t take any further action. They had never contacted me before regarding their problems. They only contacted me before they came for the protest.”

Amongst the protestors, senior citizen Rudolf Pereira (71) patiently stood in the corner clutching his father’s will. He says, “On the property card, I wanted to transfer the property from my father’s name to my name. I have been trying to do this since the last eight to nine years. Still I haven’t got any answer from the authorities. They tell me to come with affidavits. But all my family members are dead and gone, where am I going to get an affidavit from? My father made a will and I have that with me. I even have my lawyer’s notice and other required documents, and in spite of that, they have a problem. I am already 71, and none of the officials are respectful. I hope this protest is an eye-opener for them and they start paying attention to our concerns.”

Vile Parle resident Gilroy Anthony Misquitta (56), who was present at the rally, says, “In 2009, I had filed an application with the City Survey Office to transfer the name of the property owner, from my father’s name to that of my family members. This process generally takes around two months. But this process has taken us four years. Each time we go there, the City Survey Officer would tell us, ‘tumhare naam mein gadbad hai, kuch bhi sahee nahin hai’ (There are errors in your name. Nothing is right). They raised questions as my dad’s full name included his father’s name as well as his godfather’s name. This apparently is creating a problem.” Misquitta’s sister, Angeline B’Nimma says, “I have lost four family members, and all of them tried to get the name transferred, but in vain. The authorities are not bothered.”

Financial consultant, Brian Pereira (55), has been trying to get the name transferred on his property card since 2007. He says, “My parents died in the year 2003. We are five siblings with our parent’s properties to be divided amongst us, in equal shares, and transferred as legal heirs. The Survey Office hasn’t guided me properly and a bureaucratic attitude prevails there. Once the officers were too busy to give me any attention and ultimately a random man at the office, figured out my problem and told me, that he will help for a certain fee in exchange. You have to just read between the lines. In spite of having all of my documents, I have to face such problems.”

Leading the rally, Watchdog Foundation member and advocate Godfrey Pimenta says, “I feel a lot of injustice is done to the ordinary man; I felt compelled to do something, and to make a difference. We are demanding that whenever the property owners come here for any documentation, the application should be disposed of in a time-bound manner. I definitely think this protest will make a difference. It is never the case that property owners don’t have the required documents, officers just give that as a lame excuse. Citizens are made to run from pillar to post. A lot of middlemen are operating in these offices, and we want a stop to all of that. We want a clean system.”

Pimenta says, “It’s been almost a week since the protest. The protest has definitely created awareness among property owners. A non-resident Indian (NRI) contacted me and told me that he came to know about the protest, and asked if Watchdog Foundation could help his father deal with the name transfer process. This shows that we have managed to spread the word and now the City Survey Office is also well aware of us. We are hoping for a long-term change in the attitudes of the officers. I hope they realise the kind of mental torture felt by each citizen who is just trying to get a name transferred on the property card.”

Demands of the protestors:
>> Ensure transparency and accountability
>> Application should be disposed of in a time-bound manner
>> Maintaining an information board listing certificates required, fees and approximate timeline
>> Facilitate timely and cost-effective transfers
>> Put a stop to any illegal activities and the functioning of dishonest agents 

All my family members are dead and gone, where am I going to get an affidavit from?
Rudolf Pereira, Protestor

It is never the case that property owners don't have the required documents
Godfrey Pimenta, Advocate

They told us, ‘tumhare naam mein gadbad hai, kuch bhi sahee nahin hai’
Gilroy Misquitta, Protestor

I haven’t come across anyone who has been coming here for eight to nine years
S R Wani, Official

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