By Steve Antao
Advocate Bhargav Khandeparkar is a young and dynamic lawyer from Vasco. Most of his childhood was spent in the serene village of Borim. He did his schooling at Swami Vivekananda Vidyalaya, Borim, and his higher secondary schooling in Arts at G.V.M’s HSS, Ponda.
In 2008, he joined V.M. Salgaocar College of Law, Miramar to pursue his LL.B degree. After successfully completing his course in 2013, he started practicing as a lawyer. While in practice, he went on to do his post-graduation in Criminology at Goa University. He completed his post-graduation in 2015, securing First Class and First Rank. In recognition of his achievement, he was awarded the Nani A. Palkhiwala Memorial Trust Gold Medal, the Prof. Dr. V. B. Coutinho Gold Medal, the Late Hirba Morto Naik Gaunekar Gold Medal, and the Late Shri. V. M. Salgaocar Gold Medal at the 28th convocation ceremony of Goa University in 2016.
Upon joining practice, Bhargav sensed a general lack of awareness among litigants regarding basic concepts of Goan laws. He strongly believed that if the public were apprised of these basic legal concepts, most of the disputes could be easily obviated.
During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were frequent lockdowns, Bhargav had a lot of free time at his disposal. So, he thought of putting this time to good use. He started making a series of YouTube videos for creating public awareness about Goan laws. The series was called ‘Goan Law For The Layman’. It comprised 15 concise videos covering the basic laws of marriage and succession in Goa.
The series received an immediate and positive response from viewers, prompting Bhargav to start ‘Legal Talk for the Layman’, to cover other important legal topics for the general public. Unfortunately, when the courts resumed functioning, Bhargav had to return to his duty as a lawyer. Due to this, he couldn’t make any more videos. However, Bhargav’s passion to raise public awareness remains steadfast.
In a brief conversation with ItsGoa, Bhargav shared insights into his life and his career and also provided a lot of information regarding property-related issues in Goa.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
I am a second-generation lawyer. I grew up observing client consultations in my father’s office. Over time, I developed a keen ear for the conflicts and issues brought in by clients. This kindled my interest in approaching conflicts in an analytical manner and finding expeditious solutions.
I was later inspired by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, and modern-day authors such as Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Richard Dawkins. I used to binge-watch their debates on YouTube, which further fuelled my passion for learning syllogisms, dissection of arguments, identification of fallacies, and articulation of thoughts.
On a few occasions, I accompanied my father to Court and observed court proceedings. This is when the profession truly caught my attention. I was intrigued by the procedures followed for adjudication of disputes. At the same time, I was also elated by the idea of having a platform to resolve complex issues by canvassing logic through argument.
Later, while in Law College, I was privileged to be taught law by the finest professors of V.M. Salgaocar College of Law. I must pay special homage to Dr. Srinivas Rao, Dr. M.R.K. Prasad, Dr. Sandhya Ram and Dr. B.S. Patil for inculcating my interest in law subjects and for honing my presentation skills through seminar presentations, moot court competitions and client counseling competitions.
I eventually joined the profession aspiring to be like my father. He continues to be an inspiration every day.
Since when have you been practicing?
I have been practicing law since July 2013.
I remember as if it were yesterday, that I first walked across the wooden partition of a court hall – a moment that I used to only dream of while sitting beside litigants after college hours.
It’s been nine years since then. Time does fly!
What kinds of legal cases do you take up?
My practice at the bar has been substantially focused on Civil & Commercial Litigation and Arbitration. This encompasses contractual disputes, property disputes, succession disputes, labor disputes et al. I appear before civil courts, consumer courts, tribunals, as well as the Honourable High Court.
Besides practicing on the civil side, I occasionally accept white-collar criminal litigation and sometimes, matrimonial disputes.
Over the past couple of months, there has been a rise in the number of cases related to the fraudulent sale of property in Goa. As a lawyer, what steps should people, especially those living overseas, take to ensure that they do not fall victim to any kind of property-related scam?
In all honesty, I cannot give you a specific criterion for every property. However, I can enumerate a few basic precautions that every prudent individual should take while dealing with properties in Goa.
FOR INTENDING PURCHASERS:
From the perspective of purchasers, I recommend a three-pronged approach:
1. Title investigation: It is imperative that you engage the services of an independent advocate to carry out a thorough title investigation. A title investigation report takes care of two fundamental concerns: Firstly, it verifies the chain of title, i.e. whether or not the ownership of the property, which may have passed through several hands over the years, has been effectively acquired by the person offering to sell the same. Secondly, it verifies the identity of the property, i.e. whether or not the property owned by the predecessors-in-title matches the property proposed to be sold.
For this, you must require the proposed vendor to provide you with all such documents of title and permissions/licenses as are required by your lawyer for preparing a title investigation report. Once your lawyer certifies that the proposed vendor is competent to sell the property, your first step in due diligence is complete.
2. Site survey: The second step concerns physical verification of the property at loco. You may find it interesting to know that most Portuguese records contain only descriptive identification of properties. The only references described are the landmarks and local topography, accompanied by the names and numbers assigned to the properties. Survey plans or sketches were rare. These records were transformed into survey plans and survey numbers as we know them today on the basis of local investigation by survey officials. Obviously, some of the transition suffered from mistranslation, and some were simply lost in translation. Therefore, in some cases, it may be necessary to carry out a site inspection through a private surveyor for the purpose of surveying and identifying the property at its physical location. This exercise helps you confirm the location, the area and the dimensions of the property. It also helps you to verify whether there are any existing encroachments in the property.
3. Public notice: If you wish to be extra cautious, you may consider taking this third step before purchasing any property. You may have your lawyer publish a public notice in the local newspaper, inviting individuals with valid legal claims to come forward. That way, there will be fewer chances of surprises once you have purchased the property.
If every buyer adopts this three-pronged approach, property transactions would be much safer in Goa.
FOR GOAN PROPERTY OWNERS RESIDING ABROAD:
Now coming to the concerns of Goan property owners residing abroad, I suggest the following list of precautions to protect their properties in Goa. Once again, this list is not exhaustive, but it’s definitely a start:
1. Mutation: Mutate the survey records to your name.
2. Partition: If you own a plot in a larger undivided property, partition your portion in the survey records and get an independent sub-division number for your plot of land.
3. Succession: If you have received the property in inheritance, consult a lawyer to initiate immediate steps to legally establish your share in the inheritance by executing a Deed of Declaration of Heirship or through inventory proceedings.
4. Possession: Take symbolic possession by fencing off your property.
5. Vigilance: Finally, be vigilant about the activities in and around your property. Vicariously keep an eye on your property, either through a professional caretaker or with the help of neighbours or relatives.
As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure.
If you wish to avoid decades of litigation to remove encroachers from your land or to untangle and quash unlawful transfers of your property, you must take these precautionary steps to protect your property, especially if you are not around your property too often.
Ejecting trespassers can be sometimes a long-drawn and expensive process. So ensure that the property is not left easily encroacheable.
For those who have fallen victim to such kind of property frauds, what can they do to deal with the problem?
There are several remedies available in law.
Depending on the facts of your case, you may have to file a civil suit either for ejectment or declaration of injunction or money recovery.
In case of fraud, you may also be advised to make a police complaint or initiate private criminal proceedings before a Magistrate.
In case of illegal construction on your property, you may be advised to complain to the local authorities for seeking demolition. Local authorities include Panchayats, Municipalities, Planning & Development Authorities, etc.
Each remedy has its own procedure and takes its own time. All remedies may not be best suited to the facts of your case. As such, it is advisable to consult a lawyer before initiating any proceedings.
There are many families who have their ancestral properties in Goa, which were purchased by their grandparents during the Portuguese era. What is the procedure to be followed to sell such kinds of properties in case there is no will left behind by the grandparents?
A Will is not necessary to inherit property. In the absence of a Will, legal heirs get a share in the inheritance as per the law of intestate succession.
The extent of your share depends on the number of heirs left behind by the deceased. You may find out the extent of your share in the inheritance by consulting a lawyer.
Once you determine the extent of your share in the inheritance, the next step is to legally establish the same, so that you can enjoy and enforce your rights in respect of the ancestral estate.
To legally establish your right in the inheritance, you may initiate inventory proceedings before a Court of Law or execute a Deed of Declaration of Heirship/Deed of Succession before a Sub-Registrar/Special Notary.
In a Deed of Succession, your heirship is established, but the estate remains undivided. In an inventory proceeding, your share can be established and the estate can be partitioned.
You cannot sell a specific property or a portion of an undivided inheritance without the consent of all shareholders.
The mode of succession most suitable for you will be recommended by your lawyer based on the facts of your case.
What are the documents that are required to sell such kinds of properties?
A decree of an Inventory Court or a certified copy of a Deed of Succession is necessary to establish your title to the property.
Many people say that Form I & XIV is sufficient as documentary proof of ownership of property. Is this true? Can a piece of land be sold using Form I & XIV alone or are other documents such as Title Deed, Mother Deed, Cadastral plan, etc. required?
In Goa, survey forms such as Form I & XIV in villages, and Form D in cities, are merely a record of the person presumably occupying the property. A survey form comes with a legal presumption of the correctness of the entry. However, the same can easily be disproved on the basis of title documents.
Survey Forms are often not updated by transferees or are wrongly mutated. The entries can be changed on the basis of title documents through the process of mutation/correction of survey records, or by obtaining a court order. Therefore, survey forms are certainly not reliable documents of ownership.
Title documents that establish ownership generally include registered documents of conveyance such as Deed of Sale, Deed of Gift, etc., or documents of succession, or judgments of Courts of law.
What steps should parents take in order to prevent conflicts from arising among their children regarding the inheritance of their property after their demise?
Each generation must take effective steps to establish their legal succession through the Deeds of Declaration of Heirship or through inventory proceedings. Keeping shares undivided usually spells conflict and chaos for the next generation.
Parents must first ensure that their own ancestral succession is completed before their demise so that there is lesser controversy for the next generation to resolve.
Additionally, if there are multiple children, parents may provide an arrangement for the distribution of the properties after their demise, by executing Wills or Gift Deeds. In this way, parents can ensure that all children are bequeathed specific properties while taking care that no child is deprived of its minimum mandatory share in the inheritance as prescribed by law.
Such measures minimize the disputes that may arise while partitioning the estate.
Advocate Bhargav Khandeparkar is based in Vasco. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]