Daijiworld Media Network - Mangalore
Mangalore, July 25
Mangalore has been experiencing peace and quietude for the last two years thanks to the efforts of the police and the contribution of its people in maintaining harmony. But one wonders, whether the situation is going to change for the worse now that the underworld which was in a trance for quite some time is coming out to unleash fear and terror among the city’s business community. This is the foremost question haunting the city’s businessmen especially the builders’ community which has always been the prime target of the underworld kingpins and their vicissitudes. The gang members owing allegiance to Bannaje Raja, Ravi Poojary and Koraga Vishwanath Shetty among others are said to be once again active in Mangalore targeting realtors.
Ravi Poojary, Bannanje Raja
Realtors and Underworld elements in India have always shared a special relationship because now it is an open secret that underworld activities are directly linked to real estate prices. After Mumbai and Bengaluru, Mangalore has become a haven for underworld dons in the last two decades. For long Mangalore has been the battleground for the local mafia dons and the dreaded underworld gangs operating internationally. With land becoming a scarce commodity and real estate prices skyrocketing in Mangalore, the cash-starved underworld elements have been targeting businessmen and real estate developers in Mangalore sending shivers down their spines. Real estate developers and builders play a gigantic role in the economic development of this region and any efforts to demoralize their lot will have a debilitating impact on the economy of this region.
K C Naik
President of the Mangalore Chapter of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) K C Naik who has been haunted by the threatening calls from these gangs for the past few months did not succumb to their demands and boldly filed a complaint with the police about the threatening calls he received. “Initially the calls used to create panic and fear and a sense of insecurity used to enfold me. Now when I receive their threat calls I just disconnect or if I get a doubt I don’t receive the calls at all. But they have found ingenious ways of calling me on my mobile from my own office landline number by using some advanced technology to hoodwink me and hurl choicest innuendos, abuses and threats. But over a period of time I have developed a kind of immunity”, says K C Naik.
Lull after Crackdown
Two years back when the threat calls for city businessmen became widespread, the police led by the indomitable Gopal Hosur, the then IGP, had a crackdown on the underworld giving a death blow to their activities. There was a lull in their activities and builders could heave a sigh of relief. But their euphoria proved to be ephemeral because in the past few months once again they have started uncoiling their tentacles instilling terror and fear psychosis among the builders. After a short respite the builder community has once again been shocked out of its stupor following extortion calls and some have come forward to register complaints. Though prominent builders in the city have taken ample precautions in handling their mobile calls and have beefed up their security arrangements, the underworld elements have been ahead of them in misusing technology and invalidating their efforts.
Commissioner of Police Seemant Kumar Singh acknowledged that the police have registered 3 to 4 cases of extortion from the realtors and they are investigating the matter with the seriousness it deserves. “We are trying to get maximum number of complaints from those who have been receiving threat calls and are seriously pursuing the matter. Recently we had a meeting of both the associations of the builders and have given them tips on how to handle the threat calls and on the need to come forward and register cases. We would like to give a clear message to these kingpins that they cannot get away from their unlawful acts anymore or become law unto themselves”, he said.
Ever since these dons have built a base in Mangalore since close to two decades now, the builder community has been at the receiving end and the city has witnessed a series of attacks on builders and developers who refused to yield to their demands for ransom and extortion. A chilling example of their presence was evident when journalist-turned-realtor Subba Rao was shot dead in 2007 outside his office on K S Rao Road. It was said to be an extortion related murder carried out by the Bannanje Raja gang as revealed by Sandeep, who was arrested in connection with this murder. In April 2009 once again the city was awakened to the cold blooded murder of Naushad Kasim, lawyer and counsel to the puissant D-company’s hitman Rashid Malbari. In May this year, armed assailants had fired shots at the car of Suresh Bhandary of Prithvi Builders near Kadri Park and sped away. Though it looked it was an act carried out by small time lumpen elements, it has brought to the fore the not so under wraps buzz of underworld elements rising from their stupor to unleash terror and trepidation among the businessmen especially the builders.
Suresh Bhandary did give a clue as to the danger posed by the underworld when he said he had received a ransom call from Bannanje Raja two years back and the shootout might be the fallout of his not yielding to his demands. Suresh Bhandary’s case is not an isolated incident as is evident from the fact that many builders have been very explicit in saying they have received threat calls from underworld gangs from time to time and that they always live in a state of fear and fretfulness.
Siraj Ahmed, a reputed builder and developer who completed 25 years in the business of real estate in Mangalore says police are capable of annihilating the activities of the underworld and infuse confidence among builders. The police had acted swiftly when Siraj he approached the police about the threatening calls he was receiving for nearly 4 months demanding ransom. “The police have proved their competence of handling underworld threats in my case just two years by arresting two armed men belonging to the Lucknow-based Tabuz gang. I suffered a great deal following the threatening calls but did not succumb because I run a clean business”, Siraj contends.
60:40 Black N White
It is not surprising why the builders in Mangalore are targeted when such cases of extortion in cities like Bangalore are on the downslide. Well established builders in bigger cities like Bangalore accept only white money in their land dealings, which they can afford because of their strong capital base. But Mangalore being a small and emerging city is unable to follow in the footsteps of bigger cities. While established realtors abide by lawful transactions it is the small and new entrants into the business who succumb to the lure of 60:40 black and white money transactions which proves beneficial both to the buyer and the seller. No doubt sooner or later Mangalore also will have to have complete white money land transactions but till then the problem persists.
At the moment it is a transitory period and the small players and new entrants into the real estate market cannot survive in a market dominated by developers who have a strong capital base if they don’t resort to the 60:40 formula. Gone is the earlier trend where it was a buyer’s market which was advantageous for the builders. Now the supply is more and the demand has diminished and surviving in such variable situations is a challenge for the realtors. Only those with a good standing and reputation for quality work are able to withstand the tough market conditions. Many small time developers in Mangalore have made quick money in the real estate and they flaunt their newly acquired financial status and that automatically invites the attention of the underworld kingpins who need money to run their underworld business empire.
Succumbing to Threats
The situation has become tricky mainly because some realtors panic and succumb to the threats of the underworld rather than taking the police into confidence. The underworld goons therefore are under the impression that all builders and developers are able to yield to their demands and can part with a hefty payoff. The calls are made either through the internet or international numbers which are difficult to trace if not impossible. Gangsters like Ravi Poojary and Bannanje Raja have recruited some local goons to carry out the threats to the builders.
One is tempted to ask whether the ostentatious lifestyle exhibited by some builders has played any role that might have impelled the underworld to target the builders. Siraj Ahamed denies this saying “we are in the real estate business and we need to maintain a certain standard and lifestyle in commensurate to our business standing. Otherwise we cannot compete effectively in this highly challenging filed. People will presume we are out of business and that would be like inviting disaster”.
Police Commissioner Seemant Kumar Singh says that the police are aware of the underworld becoming active in Mangalore once again and have taken corrective measures to give a death blow to their activities. “It is a dynamic phenomenon in metros and in cities where there is a spurt in economic activity. Our police have been geared up and asked to take steps so as to instill confidence among the builder community. We will continue the good work of Gopal Hosur and will make all possible efforts to undermine the underworld activities”, he stated. The Commissioner had called a meeting of the builders recently following the Suresh Bhandary incident to take stock of the situation. Some builders who received threat calls have been provided police protection and security. He has lso geared up the local police to keep a constant watch on the rowdy elements of their area. “We are working as a team by taking the local police into confidence to tackle the issue”. He also denied the widespread belief of the police being hand in glove with the underworld elements.
The Karnataka Chapter of CREDAI is going to meet soon in Mysore and the issue of underworld threat is going to be discussed among other things and brought to the notice of the government, K C Naik stated. The outcome of the meeting is keenly awaited as the builders are hopeful that the government might take concrete steps to mitigate the nuisance of underworld. In a meeting held in Mangalore in June the CREDAI members stated that they would face the challenge posed by the underworld unitedly with necessary support from the government. The builders need to showcase their unity in this regard and fight the menace with a team approach.
Strength in Unity
No doubt today the real estate biggies from Mumbai, Bangalore and other metros and cities have cast their eyes on this port city by buying plum lands within the city limits and in the outskirts. Everyone is looking for property in Mangalore because of hike in real estate prices elsewhere in the country. Mangalore is a small city with tiny land holdings and those who have some property sell it at whopping prices. The reasons of their investing in this city are not difficult to fathom as this port city is growing at rapid strides emerging as the fastest growing tier III city in the country next only to Tiruvanantapuram. This along with skyrocketing of land prices elsewhere and the opportunities unleashed by a liberalized economy has fuelled an upsurge in real estate prices in the city. But the real allure of Mangalore is that it can offer the best of metro life combined with the good old charm of rural, rustic and traditional socio-economic environment, which is nothing but good life in a peaceful ambience without the evils of metro cities. This no doubt augurs well for the all-round growth and development and concerted efforts are needed to preserve this attraction of the city.
The threat of the hydra-headed underworld no doubt will be dampener on the robust growth of the real estate market and these threats cannot be treated with a cavalier approach. As K C Naik says, the builders are already reeling under the pressure of paying 62 paise out of one rupee as taxes and shouldering any more burdens would be detrimental to their existence and to the healthy growth of the city. CREDAI has been making efforts to puts its own house in order by trying to canvas more members into its fold to forge unity among builders. “We are canvassing to include smaller builders as to help them to become good boys by enrolling them as CREDAI members”, says K C Naik.
Police Commissioner Seemant Kumar Singh says that according to police sources the gangs which have been active in Mangalore have been wizened as they are finding it difficult to recruit youth to carry out their wicked activities and if that is true half the battle against the underworld is won. But the remaining half of the battle has to be won with the combined efforts of the police and builders.