In a land-starved city, where real estate rates come second only to New York’s, buying a house could wipe out your life savings and put you in debt. However, as the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam showed, that doesn’t always apply to those in the corridors of power.
Over the last two decades, bureaucrats and politicians have managed to corner houses in Mumbai’s prime addresses. Housing societies of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, politicians and power brokers have sprung up on prime plots of public land that, only on paper, are available to all citizens interested in forming a housing society.
While Adarsh was the most visible of such cases in recent times, it is not the only one under the scanner for bending rules. It was accused of violating environmental and construction norms. It was also accused of getting the land on the promise that houses would be built for war widows and veterans and then handing over the flats to politicians, bureaucrats and military commanders.
From 1983 onwards, prime plots have been given to bureaucrats for their societies. For instance, Shalaka and Buena Vista buildings near Mantralaya, which house IAS officials. Several buildings at Worli, with flats of 1,000 sq ft, are part of the Worli Sagar Housing Society of legislators, where politicians such as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gopinath Munde and former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh have flats.
Political observers said the nexus between officials, politicians and developers has become more blatant over the last decade. “The political leadership has played into the hands of the builders’ lobby. Housing society scams are indicators of the land mafia at work. Officials help it in return for personal gains,” said BJP legislator Vinod Tawde.
“Senior bureaucrats should be given a home at concessional rates considering they are not paid on par with private sector managers. But, the allotments should be made transparently. Unfortunately, in the last decade, need has changed to greed,” said YP Singh, IPS official-turned-lawyer.
Public land given away
As per the law, vacant plots can be handed over to housing societies at a concession.
While anyone can apply for the land, only insiders know of its availability and the procedures to get it. Only they have the clout to get the files moving.
To add to this, in 1999, the state government issued an order that further helped officials to corner flats in prime localities. It allowed flat owners, including officials, to sell and transfer these flats on payment of a certain fee after five years. It also diluted the main condition of eligibility — you could get a flat only if you didn’t own one in the city. Earlier, you couldn’t own a flat anywhere in the state. This means that a legislator who owns a house in Thane can get such a flat in Mumbai.
“Ordinary citizens can’t compete with officials, some of whom have drafted the laws concerned themselves. They know how to sniff out vacant plots. After that, it’s easy for them to secure the permissions,” said a bureaucrat on condition of anonymity.