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THE PROBLEMS

Amendments in land laws deal only with owner-tenant disputes while most cases involve NRIs' relatives.
Tedious legalities are exploited to partition property.
 Lower courts are overburdened; they also allow the contesting of cases.

THE SOLUTIONS

Set up fast-track courts to hasten proceedings in disputes not covered by amendments.
Simplify procedures for partition of property.  

Appointment of expats who have returned to India as nambardars in villages to prevent manipulation of records.
More often than not it is the relatives who occupy or fraudulently sell the NRIs' share by forging the power of attorney and altering the land mutations in revenue records. "Almost 95 per cent of these disputes relate to the undivided ancestral property," says Sharma. Besides, the relatives exploit the time-consuming procedures to legally partition the property, with a contested case taking up to 20 years to decide. Which is why the Government is thinking of simplifying procedures for partition of property. It has also decided to appoint expats who have returned to India as "nambardars" in villages with over 20 NRIs to guard against manipulation of records.

In the owner-tenant disputes, though the amended law provides for a speedy trial and immediate possession of property, the cases are delayed because the lower courts are overburdened. Another reason why tenants succeed in delaying cases is that the lower courts grant leave to contest despite a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court having upheld the constitutional validity of the amendments. "The lower courts are not following the letter of the law," laments Harchet Singh Bains, a London-based NRI who owns a built-up property at Garh Shankar. Though he won legal possession of his residential property within nine weeks, it has taken him two years to get one of his five shops vacated. The provision allows only one commercial and one residential property to be vacated, that too just once. This is another sore point with the NRIs. "The amendments were a half-hearted measure to placate NRIs," adds Harchet.

Despite the legal hiccups, more and more NRIs are moving courts to benefit from the amended laws: there was a five-fold rise in the number of NRIs seeking consultancy at the NRI Sabha in the past year. Parkash Kaur has returned from the UK after 10 years to claim her commercial property at Mahilpur, Hoshiarpur. "But I'm scared of the protracted court proceedings," says the 66-year-old.

Desperate to gain the confidence of such NRIs, the state Government has decided to approach the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to have some district courts double as "fast-track courts". These will not only bring uniformity in the implementation of the amended laws but also speed up proceedings in disputes not covered by the amendments. But until that happens, homecoming will continue to be a misnomer for many NRIs.