Two weeks after it decided to revive plans to amend the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999 and lift the freeze on the rent for old properties in Mumbai, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government beat a hasty retreat on Thursday. Fearing stiff political opposition ahead of the 2017 civic polls, the government withdrew its plans to amend the controversial legislation.
State housing minister Prakash Mehta said there was no such proposal under the government’s consideration, two weeks after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis chaired a meeting in which the proposal was given a nod. The amendment would have increased rents for homes above 860 sqft feet and commercial spaces above 500 sqft and brought it on a par with market rents in these areas. According to estimates by tenant associations — which the government has rejected — this would have led to rents shooting up 2,500 times in residential and 5,000 times in commercial spaces. HT had earlier reported how the housing department had argued the amendment would only pinch the creamy layer, with flats above 850 sqft constituting only 8.5% (1.97 lakh) homes and only 14% commercial spaces (less than 1 lakh) being affected by the amendment.
After finding themselves isolated politically on the issue — even ally Shiv Sena opposed the amendment vehemently — city BJP leaders prevailed over the government, leading to the shelving of the plans. A considerable section of these tenants, especially commercial spaces, form the backbone of the BJP’s political and financial clout in the city. Even these supporters had, in fact, started targeting the BJP in its protests, spooking the ruling party further, ahead of the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls next year.
An irked state housing minister Prakash Mehta lashed out at political parties, including the Sena, for spreading ‘rumours’ about such a proposal. “There was neither such a proposal, nor such a bill. This was a canard spread by political parties to scare tenants into backing them. The Sena has been alleging this [that the Marathi Manoos will be displaced] for 50 years now, but has the Marathi manoos been displaced?”
This is the second time in seven months that the state government has come up with plans to amend the Act, only to withdraw them soon after facing opposition. In May last year, the government had, as part of its draft housing policy, proposed to amend the Act, but flak from tenants ensured the proposal was withdrawn.
An action-replay of the episode was seen on Thursday, when city BJP leaders went to meet Fadnavis and Mehta and minutes later, the latter announced that the government never had any such plans to amend the Act.
In fact, Mehta went out of his way to appease the tenant lobby. “We are now going to the Supreme Court and urge it to convert these tenancies into ownership holdings. We will back tenants completely,” he said.