You cannot be taken for a ride
witnessed widespread violation of building norms such as prelaunch offers, construction of flats without approved building plans, collection of excess external development charges from owners, encroachment upon green areas, offer of possession without completion certificates etc.
RTI is the only effective tool against real estate fraud in an environment where development authorities are turning a blind eye to building violations by real estate developers. Besides, financial institutions are not conducting proper due-diligence before extending loans and the revenue departments are also registering these ‘unauthorised’ properties.
Ashish Kaul, an RTI activist in Gurgaon, cites several examples of real estate frauds that could have easily been avoided if buyers had sought information under RTI. According to him, a Gurgaon-based luxury project, whose licence was cancelled by the Department of Town and Country Planning Haryana (DTCP) last year for non-payment of external development charges, is still up for sale.
“In Gurgaon, well- known developers have launched various subsidiary companies to serve different functions. In many cases, while the parent companies market the projects, their subsidiaries hold the licence for construction. So when the licence is cancelled, DTCP puts up the name of the subsidiary company on the website, while the marketing companies continue to sell the projects. We came to know about this illegal practice after having filed several RTIs. As per rules, the company that holds the licence should also market the project,” explains Kaul. According to him, pre- launch offers, that are a criminal offence in Gurgaon, are the most common violation of development norms.
Narender Chhabra, president, federation of apartment owners’ association, Greater Faridabad, is of the opinion that there is an urgent need to make people aware of the power of RTI in real estate. “The tacit connivance of development bodies, banks and real estate developers have made homebuyers a vulnerable lot. RTI is the only way to find out whether the developer has got the licence, if the layout plan is sanctioned and if the building approvals (permission for commencement of construction) are in place,” says Chhabra.
In many cases, information sought under RTI has helped homebuyers win l egal battles against developers. “The recent Allahabad High Court judgment which interpreted the Uttar Pradesh Apartment ( promotion of construction, ownership and maintenance) Act, is a landmark achievement for homebuyers. The said Act is in operation since 2010 but developers are openly violating it and the development authori- ties have failed to implement the law in letter and spirit,” says Alok Kumar, president of federation of apartment owners in Ghaziabad.
Kumar, who is also an RTI activist, says that despite the high court order to implement t he said Act, development authorities still drag their feet when it comes to taking strict steps against errant builders.
Another buyer, Prakash PVS, an employee of a Gurgaon-based software company, took the RTI route when his developer in Noida encroached upon the green area in the project to launch luxury villas.
“Developers show parks and green areas in their initial layout plans to attract customers and later try and eat into the green area and construct residential towers or shopping malls. The RTI that we filed brought these violations to light. We filed a case in the Allahabad High Court that granted a stay on further construction,” says Prakash.