The BJP led government in the state is at the receiving end over allotment of prime land at Oshiwara to actress and BJP MP Hema Malini to set up a dance academy.
The government has responded to the criticism by pointing out that the allotment is in line with the policy under which score of plots have been given in the past in similar manner. A government decision of 1984 has a provision to allot land for social/charitable institutions by charging them 25% of the cost of land that prevailed in 1976 or to lease out on a nominal annual rent at 8% of the 10% of the 1976 cost. Information about various such allotments is coming into public domain and rightfully, questions are being asked over their use by the allottees.
For decades, Mumbai has seen plots belonging to revenue, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) being handed out to individuals, educational and social institutes as well as sports entities for heavily discounted rates. These plots were public properties and on paper, given for promoting education, sports or social causes.
In reality, most are used for private interests. Hospitals built on such plots don’t provide treatment to the people at affordable rates. Schools and colleges that came up on these plots don’t cater to the need of the common people. Institutes meant for promoting social causes have turned their premises into marriage and banquet halls. Playgrounds and open spaces given to sports entities have become private clubs with membership fees running into lakhs. Builders who grabbed government land under the guise of providing houses for economically weaker sections ended up building high-end houses. There are some institutions that have been fulfilling their promises made to the government but those are just a few exceptions.
In past few decades, successive governments not only ignored this blatant misuse of public land but encouraged the same. Once, the MHADA had a large number of plots in the city but in past 25-30 years, people in power recklessly allotted many to various institutions. Had it used the land judiciously for mass housing schemes, lot of people in Mumbai would have managed to get houses at affordable rates. It would have also prevented builders from asking exorbitant prices for homes in private projects.
Now since Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has reacted to the Hema Malini controversy, can we hope that the government would stop the largess? Can we hope that the few remaining plots in possession of the state government and the civic body would be used only for public amenities or mass housing schemes? Land in Mumbai is precious and if it is owned by the people, they should get benefit of the same.