India is witnessing a massive real estate boom. The apartments, office towers, shopping malls, hotels and resorts are increasing dotting India’s landscape. Land prices in some areas have tripled in value over the last few years, while office rents in New Delhi and Mumbai are now more expensive than those in central London. The property dealers and builders are key movers of India’s drive to erect modern cities where the new middle class can live, work, shop and play.
But behind this success story is a grim tale of how the land mafia is making fortunes out of India’s booming real estate industry. The mafia has not even spared the military land. A Chief Minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra resigned after his name surfaced in illegally-constructed apartments in Mumbai. The land was sought for the war widows but eventually top politicians, bureaucrats and military officers were allotted flats in the premier property at a much lowered prices.
As one land scam after another surfaced we decided to pursue a story about how military land is illegally sold and the role of the defence and military officials in such illegal defence land deals. After a couple of months of research and a remarkable number of interviews conducted we were able to establish that the rot is much deeper than earlier suspected.
In almost every state of India, defence estate officials holding key positions, along with the military and state revenue officials, had subverted rules to illegally sell the defence land.
We used data from the Parliament about the total military land grab cases in India (some 12,327 acres of land worth thousands of crores of rupees). With the help of a map we highlighted the defence land grab places across India.
Our investigation revealed that land at least in two abandoned airfields and eight camping grounds also figure in the list of encroachments.
The story prompted immediate attention of the government. Five days after our investigative report “Losing Ground” was published, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided houses and offices of defence ministry officials in five states on May 11 in connection with alleged scams in military land. The investigation continues.