LAND RIGHTS: Indo-Canadians struggling to retain their property in India

Published: January 10, 2013
Vikram Bajwa, president of the Indian Overseas Congress, says there are around 1,800 cases of Non-Resident Indians struggling with real estate and property rights issues (Les Bazso / PNG file photo)  (see Kent Spencer story )

Vikram Bajwa, president of the Indian Overseas Congress, says there are around 1,800 cases of Non-Resident Indians struggling with real estate and property rights issues (Les Bazso / PNG file photo)

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVERDESI.COM

Surrey resident Kamaljit Thind has been fighting to maintain the property rights of his land in India for the past two years.

Since Thind moved to Canada in 1991, the value of his agricultural land has “increased so much,” but many repairs are needed.

“[My distant relatives] live over there, they want to occupy that land, [but] they don’t want to give us [rent],” he said. “They always refuse.”

With little help from the government or police, Thind’s brothers travelled to India in an attempt to make the needed repairs to a water pump and get the rent they’re owed.

But Thind is just one of thousands of Non-Resident-Indians struggling with real estate and property rights issues.

According to Vikram Bajwa, Indian Overseas Congress president, more than 1,800 cases like Thind’s — and worse — exist and are backlogged in Punjab court.

“That’s a heavy number,” Bajwa told Vancouver Desi, adding the overall value adds up to about $350 million.

Over the past ten years this has been an increasing trend as NRIs become “new Canadians.”

“Because the population is growing, the land value in Punjab … it has gone tenfold,” said Bajwa.

So either distant relatives or real estate agents who keep watch on vacant land of migrated owners, known as the “land mafia,” seize the property while they’re gone.

Bajwa blames the “corrupt bureaucracy and the corrupt police.”

“Our government in India has failed to protect our properties back there because we live [in Canada],” he said. “Once we go back there we are in a different law. We are foreigners … because we acquired Canadian citizenship.”

“But we are originally from India … we [shouldn’t] be treated as second-class citizens.”

Another “major dilemma” is that the Canadian Embassy in New Delhi doesn’t have a department to handle the real estate aspect of Indo-Canadians in India, said Bajwa — leaving NRIs to go “through this rigamarole” on their own.

So Bajwa wrote a letter on Tuesday asking Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, who is currently in India, for help.

“We seek your assistance to take up the matter with Chief Minister S.Parkash Singh Badal … our High Commission in New Delhi, should be instructed to assist the Canadians, who are facing issues, concerning the ‘rights and ownership’ associated with real estate,” he wrote in the letter.

Richard Kurland, a local immigration lawyer, sees a problem with the request, though.

According to Kurland, there’s been an increasing trend in new immigrants failing to claim foreign assets to the CRA.

And Bajwa admits many NRIs are afraid to come forward because of this.

“The value has increased exponentially — that’s a capital gain that must be reported in Canada,” said Kurland.

But regardless of the infraction, Kurland believes the government should still step in.

“Canada still has a diplomatic and political obligation to assist Canadians who apparently are being targeted on the basis of being Canadians,” he said.

“Even if some of these individuals don’t necessarily have clean hands when it comes to disclosure of their status overseas.”

But according to an emailed statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, “property disputes are private legal matters” and property in India — even if owned by Canadians — “is subject to Indian law.”

Bajwa believes with government help, foreign investments will get reported, thus bringing money in to the CRA.

But if the current system remains, it will only continue to “deter people from going back,” said Bajwa. “About eight years ago, you could say, ‘OK, I have my retirement home in India,’ but not anymore because of this.”

lcahute@theprovince.com

twitter.com/larissacahute

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