Four Registration officials accused in suspected land fraud case

The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) on Friday booked four executives of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd., a major tea and spices cultivator in South India, on the charge of submitting fake documents in court to allegedly justify their questionable possession of 26,000 acres of arable land in Kerala.

The VACB, which filed its First Information Report in the case at the court of the Vigilance Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge here, also named four Registration Department officials as accused in the suspected land fraud case.

The property in question, much of it tea estates, rubber, pepper, pineapple and cardamom plantations, is spread over Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam and Idukki districts.

In 2013, the company, which is embroiled in litigation with the government over the issue of ceiling limit for large land holdings, submitted the documents in question before the High Court of Kerala as proof of their legitimate claim over the large swath of land currently in its possession.

Susheela. R. Bhat, government pleader, doubted the authenticity of the documents and faxed a message to the Principal Secretary, Revenue, seeking a Vigilance inquiry into the matter.

The government tasked Deputy Superintendent of Police N. Nandan Pillai to conduct the inquiry. He concluded that the original documents relating to the land dated back to the colonial era.

They were in old Malayalam and carried the seal of the ruling house of the erstwhile princely State of Travancore. Time and poor record keeping had rendered most of it illegible.

In contrast, the documents submitted by the company were allegedly recently fabricated ones and were not supported by requisite previous documents.

He also found that the company had allegedly used the documents in question to sell 7,000 acres of land to four private persons.

One of the plantations thus sold recently had, according to Revenue Department records, been purchased by the State government at fair price value in 1985, the agency told the court.

Mr. Pillai had also found fault with four Registration Department officials on the ground that they had executed four sale deeds at the behest of the company without verifying the back records of the land involved in the transactions.

The officials had not specified how the company came into possession of the land, which it sold to private parties.

According to the VACB, the officials had not “even bothered” to find out whether the land was freehold (land given tax free to their vassals by colonial rulers), lease hold (wherein tax is charged for land assigned temporarily to individuals or entities), birth right or whether the company had legitimately purchased the land.

The offences involved in the case included forging documents, using forged documents as genuine ones, conspiracy, cheating and violation of the Prevention of Corruption Act.