Updated: August 31, 2021 7:18:30 am
The intervention of the Karnataka High Court and an investigation by the criminal investigation department (CID) of the Karnataka police have resulted in the unearthing of a major racket where ‘fake decrees’ were obtained from courts for small causes in Bengaluru to forcibly evict persons holding legal possession of prime properties in the city.
As many as 118 cases where fake decrees were obtained by a group of operatives – including a former public prosecutor and at least six lawyers – by putting up persons completely unconnected to properties as litigants, have been brought to light in the course of an investigation conducted by the CID after the use of fake suits and decrees for evictions came to the notice of the high court last year.
There have been nearly 12 arrests in the case so far and the CID is likely to file dozens of cases concerning the forgery, impersonation, hoodwinking of the courts over the coming days – in each of the fake decree matters unearthed from the records held by the registrar of the small causes courts.
The fake decree issue first came to the fore in November 2020 in the course of a high court case filed by a private firm Shah Harilal Bikabai and Company. The company filed the petition against its eviction from a property in north Bengaluru in 2018 using a court decree that was issued despite the company owning the land since 1954.
The high court found that fraudulent means were adopted to evict the company from the land – with a group of persons creating fake documents to claim ownership of the property and filing a case in the small causes court for eviction of a fictitious tenant – put up by the fake owner himself.
Within a few days of the filing of the case in the small causes court the fake owners and tenants claimed to have reached a compromise and the fake owners obtained a court order for eviction of the tenant – under police protection – leading to efforts to evict the actual occupant of the property, Shah Harilal Bikabai & Co. The company approached the high court after a police complaint in August 2020 failed to stop the eviction process.
“In respect of subject property the suit in SC No 678/2018 was filed by 1st respondent- Mr B Mani represented by 3rd respondent – GPA holder Mr Sendil Kumar against the 2nd respondent – Mr.Arun on 26.04.2018; strangely a compromise decree has been obtained on 31.05.2018, absolutely without any explanation for this rocket speed, even when the ink on the pleadings had not yet dried up…,” a single judge of the Karnataka high court Krishna Dixit said in a November 4, 2020 order in the Shah Harilal Bikabai case while ordering a probe into court decrees from the small causes courts.
In its order the HC asked the registrar of the small causes courts “to institute a police investigation in this serious matter and cause a domestic enquiry against the suspect officials of the court, since fraud, forgery and fabrication ordinarily do not happen without the involvement of insiders”. The investigations into the fake decree racket however did not see progress until June this year – despite the registrar of the small causes court filing a police complaint in November 2020.
The probe picked up speed after the case was handed over to the CID by the state government and criticism by the high court over the slow progress in the probe of the case. On June 26, Justice Dixit lamented the lack of progress in a case being supervised by the high court.
Despite “the enormity of the scam that has been perpetrated by forging the court records and fabricating the seals of the sub-registrars and other offices,” there was “no progress worth mentioning” the single judge observed on June 26. Following this, a division bench of the high court headed by Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka converted the case into a public interest litigation (PIL) and began monitoring the CID investigations.
On August 17, the CID presented a report on the investigations in the case of the fake decree to the HC. The report said, according to recordings made by the bench, that notices had been issued by the CID to revenue officials to “furnish records of the suit properties involved in 71 small cause cases”. The division bench also ordered for bar associations to be made parties to the case on account of investigations revealing the roles of advocates in the alleged fake decrees scam.
“As can be seen from the status report of the investigation, the involvement of the members of the Bar and the Notaries cannot be ruled out. Moreover, for considering preventive measures, the presence of the Karnataka State Bar Council will be necessary. Similarly, the presence of the Advocates’ Association, Bengaluru will be necessary. We, therefore, direct learned counsel for the petitioner to implead both the entities…,” the HC said in its August 17 order.
Incidentally, an analysis of the records of the small causes courts reveals that several of the persons linked to the fake decree in the Shah Harilal Bikabai case also appeared falsely before the small causes court claiming to be linked to multiple other properties in Bengaluru – either as GPA holders of a land claimant or as a fake tenant.
For instance, Sendil Kumar who claimed to be a general power of attorney (GPA) holder of B Mani in the Shah Harilal Bikabai case is involved in as many 22 small cause suits for evictions either as a claimant or a tenant while Arun the tenant in the Shah Harilal case is also a claimant or tenant in as many as 31 small cause court cases for fake evictions from properties. One of the other unique features of the fake decree racket – apart from the involvement of the same group in the 118 fake decree cases – is that fact these cases were resolved within a matter of days – with the fake claimants and fake tenants reaching a compromise on the eviction timeline. The cases ended within a period of as little as two days to a maximum of six months, according to court records.
“While there was no tenancy in existence at all and when the decree holder was never in any manner of possession of the schedule property, the parties to these proceedings have colluded and concluded the proceedings in extreme haste that too in a span of merely nine days from the date of filing of the suit,” a sessions court has observed while denying bail, a few days ago, to an arrested accused in the Shah Harilal Bikabai case. A former public prosecutor has filed for anticipatory bail and at least three advocates have been granted anticipatory bail over the fake decree scam.
Sources said that word spread in the real estate sector that the group of operatives were capable of evicting land holders in disputed properties by using underhand methods and the services of the group was sought by many persons. The group would get a percentage of the value of a property from the persons who sought their services or they would use the fake decree to obtain money from the persons who are in possession of a disputed property, sources said.
Apart from the Shah Harilal Bikabai case the suspects in the case have filed another 71 Small Cause cases and 28 Execution Proceedings of similar nature based on fabricated documents, a sessions court was informed by prosecutors during a recent bail hearing for one of the arrested operatives.
Sources, however, said the group has filed 118 fake suits to obtain the fraudulent court decrees, as per records of the small causes courts. The arrested accused in the fake decree case filed on behalf of Shah Harilal Bikabai “went to the extent of creating property documents as if they are issued by the concerned authorities,” the sessions court has observed in the bail rejection of an arrested accused.
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