With the interim report on Adarsh and a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General likely to be tabled in the legislature in the coming week, that most precious thing in Mumbai and other metros, land, is back in the news. For almost two decades, politics in Maharashtra has revolved around land scams and controversies. Whether it is the allotment of government plots or the changing of land-use reservations in the development plan to benefit builders, land scams have been the order of the day as real estate prices kept increasing. Since 1990, barring Sudhakarrao Naik and Prithviraj Chavan, all chief ministers have been in the dock over some allegation or other that was linked to land. The names of numerous ministers and legislators across parties have also cropped up in various controversies.
Many politicians have managed to get government-allotted plots to build sprawling educational institutes, where students are asked to cough up exorbitant fees for various courses. The policy of allotting land to educational institutions, one that is in focus thanks to the auditor's report, helped a number of education barons to set institutions in cities such as Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune and increase their political clout.
Wherever the land reservation has been changed, the decisions often benefitted some developer or the other. Over the past two decades, millions of reservations for public utilities or open spaces were quietly changed to residential or commercial as builders vied with each other for every piece of land that was available for construction.
The state's political circles are full of speculation about which politician has 'cordial' relations with which builder. Is it a coincidence that the businesses of a few builders have flourished as their politician friends occupied prominent positions? Some real estate developers have become so big that they play an active role in the political decisions of prominent parties. Recently, attempts by two major real estate development companies to get a particular person as the chief minister had become a talking point in the state's power circles. With the high stakes and players involved, should we be surprised if land scams continue?
Pichad aims at Thakre
Politicians never lose a chance to get back at each other. At a dinner organised in Mumbai on the occasion of the election of two Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders, DP Tripathi and Vandana Chavan, as Rajya Sabha members. Speaking at the function, state president of the party, Madhukar Pichad, pointed out how his party had done well in the election of presidents to zilla parishads (ZP) and civic bodies despite "non-cooperation" by its ally, the Congress. "There was no need for Manikraoji to get angry with us because his son could not win the presidentship of the Yavatmal ZP," Pichad said, referring to state Congress president Manikrao Thakre's caustic criticism of the NCP for joining hands with Opposition parties. "My son was also interested in a ZP president's post (in Ahmednagar) but I did not cry foul when he did not get the chance," Pichad said, hinting that Thakre was hurt more because of his son's defeat than the NCP's hobnobbing with the Shiv Sena-BJP.