In a case of taking investors for a ride in Bhuj district of Gujarat, the NCDRC asked the developer to get the land converted into non-agricultural land and handover the plots to buyers through execution of sale deeds
In a hard hitting judgement, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) asked a Gujarat-based developer to convert agricultural land into non-agricultural (NA) within 90 days, execute sale deeds within 180 days and pay costs to buyers who had filed the complaint.
“The bizarre conduct of the opponent parties (developers) is difficult to fathom. Notice was served to them but they did not care a fig. Ten years have elapsed but it cannot be said that consumers will get plots during their life time. People are exasperated by senseless delay. The OPs have played fast and loose with the consumers,” the National Consumer Forum said in its judgement on 2 April 2014.
The case relates with buying agricultural land, converting it into NA land and then selling the plot to buyers. Bhuj-based Rajubhai Tank and Liladharbhai Dama, both directors of Odhav Hari Developers Pvt Ltd and Rajesh B Mehta, agent of the developer bought one such piece of agricultural land. In 2004, they launched a scheme that was published an advertisement for selling plots of 125 sq meters each to buyers in 36 instalments.
However, despite several buyers paying all instalments within the specified time, Odhav Hari Developers did not execute the sale deeds. This prompted buyers to file a complaint before the District Consumer Forum. The District Forum directed the developers to execute registered sale deed within three months and pay compensation of Rs3,000 and cost of Rs2,000 to the buyer.
Aggrieved by the order, the developer filed appeal before the State Commission. The Commission, however, dismissed the appeal filed by Odhav Hari Developers.
Odhav Hari Developers claimed before the State Commission that out of 1,500 customers it had already refunded money to 1,200 customers and it is ready to refund money to aggrieved customers who had approached the consumer forum as well.
However, one of the customers pointed out that that during 2004 to 2014, the rates of plots have gone up by leaps and bounds. The plot of land these customers bought for Rs25,000 in 2004 now costs over Rs2 lakh, and since it is not possible for them to buy plots at this rate with the paltry refund that the developer would give, they want the plot only. He also said the developer should execute sale deep and get the agriculture land converted into NA land.
While dismissing the petition filed by Odhav Hari Developers, the State Commission pointed out that the developers (petitioners) gave an advertisement without obtaining requisite sanction from the Collector. They also did not wish to pay the difference in the rates prevailing in the year 2004 and 2014. So, paying back the money with just 9% interest rate (to customers) would be an ‘unfair trade practice’. The State Commission, then directed the developer to pay Rs10,000 each to all complainants within 90 days under Section 26 of the Consumer Protection Act.
Odhav Hari Developers then filed appeal before the NCDRC which delivered a common order on 17 revision petitions. According to NCDRC, “It is crystal clear if the premium is paid, land would become non-agricultural and there would not be any other opinion with regard to this aspect. The petitioners should have anticipated at the time of acquiring this land in the year 2004 or prior to that, what would be the condition/ prevailing situation. They should have made it clear in the allotment letter that this premium to the collector would have to be paid by the consumers. The said condition was not shown to us. After keeping the money of the people for 10 years, the Ops (developer) want to return the same, with interest at 9%. They have not shown the willingness that they want to pay the difference in the rates prevailing in the year 2004 and 2014. The consumers cannot purchase a plot like this, after the expiry of 10 years for a sum of Rs2 lakh each. Their action is below the belt. They are unfairly trying to treat their consumers. The OPs have succeeded to feather its own nest i.e. to make profits for themselves at the expenses of others. The OPs should have taken the plunge after getting free and clear title to land in dispute. It is also noteworthy that if the premium to be paid to the Collector is reduced, will they return the money to the consumers? In case the money is paid back to the consumers, the petitioners would sell it at a very high rate. This is an unfair trade practice.”
The NCDRC not only passed strictures against the developer but also directed it to convert the agricultural land into NA land within 90 days, execute sale deeds within 180 days with customers who had booked the plots in 2004 and pay costs to buyers. who had filed the complaint.