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The city needs a land audit

india Updated: Jul 08, 2012 01:35 IST

The parallel inquiries ordered by the state and central governments (the former through a judicial commission and the latter through the CBI) into the controversy over land allotted to the Adarsh housing society have crossed the first stage.

The two-member commission has concluded that the land belongs to the state government and is now looking into the roles played by politicians and bureaucrats. The CBI, however, has not accepted the state's claim that it owns the land and has charged the accused with a conspiracy to grab land and benefit by way of flats in the plush Colaba area.

Adarsh is likely to continue grabbing headlines. What has probably escaped our attention is the huge land grab in Mumbai that has been going on for more than two decades without much noise. Earlier this week, a Mumbai court asked the police to probe allegations against a prominent developer who has built a township on a large plot of land reserved for housing for the poor and low-income groups.

Then, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has asked the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) to review the allotment of 39 plots in Mumbai to various institutions - run by politicians, of course.

These are known examples. What about hundreds of other similar allotments and sophisticated land grabs by politicians, bureaucrats, builders and industrialists at the expense of common people? Hundreds of allotments were made at concessional rates, causing huge losses to the state.

Plots reserved for mass housing, an effective way of controlling housing prices, were given to housing societies for the privileged and to bogus institutions ostensibly for education, the arts and community welfare.

Industrialists shut down their units with the help of politicians and trade union leaders and made hundreds of crores of rupees by selling that land when they realised it was much more profitable to do so than run factories.

But many of them had got that public land at concessional rates, which should have gone back to the government or at least a large share of the proceeds should have been submitted to state exchequer.

Many of these 'industrialists' have now set up factories with a part of that money in neighbouring states and are crying hoarse that Maharashtra does not have an industry-friedly atmosphere.

So why should Mumbaiites bother about this land grab? It is directly related to the astronomical real estate prices in and around the city. A majority of this land should have ideally been used for low-cost mass housing projects.

Imagine how things in the housing sector would have been different had agencies such as Mhada and City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) made available 5,000 to 10,000 low-cost houses in and around Mumbai every year for the past two decades?

May be this is a right time for the government to conduct an audit of public land to find out what happened to it in past two decades. A chief minister like Prithviraj Chavan can surely do it.

When Raj gets angry
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray is apparently very angry. And it is not some north Indian who has made him lose his temper. It seems that Raj is angry with his own partymen. With voters sending 13 of the party's MLAs to the assembly in 2009 and 28 corporators to the city council earlier this year, Raj was expecting that his party's elected representatives would make life difficult for the ruling parties by constantly raising issues about corruption and bad governance.

However, he has discovered that many of them were either unwilling to take on the ruling parties or are on friendly terms with them. He vented his ire at a party function and then declined to meet party functionaries for a while.