With no valid title deed, 88 BPL families of a colony find themselves non-entities in government records.

Kamala, 65, holds out a stamp-paper agreement she signed for the six cents of land at Eagles Plantation Colony at Chathamangalam village here. Six years ago, the widow had paid Rs.40,000 for the plot on a parched, sloping landscape.

But the sale is of no value. The land continues to be owned by the man who sold it to her. The title deed is still in his name.

Without a valid title deed, she cannot apply for a house number. So she does not have a ration card, is unable to apply for a panchayat housing loan for BPL families, or benefit from welfare measures for the poor. Squatting in the mud floor of her thatched shed where she lives alone, Kamala knows that without these documents she remains a non-entity on government records.

This is the case for 87 other BPL families of the colony. They are desperate, and deeply in debt.

The story of the 17.2-acre Eagle Plantation Colony begins almost 25 years ago when the government decided to allot small plots, varying from 4 to 6 cents to landless farmers.

In 1993, plots were allotted by the district administration to 297 families from Scheduled Caste and OBC communities. The only condition put forth was that the land should not be alienated for the next 12 years. But this would not be the case. The original allottees started to move out, without waiting for the 12 years. They sold their plots cheap.

“In other places, land was unaffordable at Rs.2 lakh to Rs.3 lakh per cent. Here, it was being sold cheap. For us, it was an opportunity,” said Khadeeja, one of the earliest buyers. In a few years, the government got wind of the land sales. It froze further grant of title deeds. But this did not stop plots from being sold. “I was the third person to buy this plot. I did not know that a stamp paper agreement between the seller and me was not proof enough,” Kamala said.

Cherunni, a tailor in his late seventies, said he had to helplessly watch his house crumble as he was unable to apply for loan from the panchayat. Mohandas K., a resident of the colony, said most of the 88 families were forced to turn to private moneylenders to build a toilet or repair walls.

“Give us pattayam (title deed) to our plots. This will help us get house numbers and ration cards. Then we can apply for loans from the panchayat. We want to get out of this debt trap and lead dignified lives,” Biju, a resident, said.

Varughese Mathew, a retired teacher of Malabar Christian College, who did volunteer work at the colony with his students in 2008, said loan sharks were ready to shell out money without any security, but would resort to physical assault in case of default in loan repayment.

Mr. Mathew and his students were instrumental in getting electricity and water for the colony in 2008. They pooled resources and built two houses there. He said the papers showing the electricity and water connection could be used as proof of possession to apply for title deeds.

Chathamangalam panchayat president K.E. Rajagopal agrees. “The panchayat has written to the Revenue department about the plight of the families. They can apply for ownership certificate of their plots and a hearing can be completed at the village level. Finally, a notification can be passed by the department granting them land ownership,” he said.