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‘Political parties are driving our land scams’

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An interesting retrospective in the too familiar arena of Indian Politics from Charles Correa .

This article is from the Tehelka Magazine, Dated Sept 13, 2008. Image via NATIW

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Our cities are out of control. Literally. But there are ways of fixing them. Architect Charles Correa dissects how for ANASTASIA GUHA

Charles Correa, 78, architect, activist and pioneer in Third World urban planning, is also angry. At the systematic way in which political parties are destroying Indian cities; at the smug inefficacy of NGOs that are doing little to save them. Correa is well placed to know what besieges our cities. Among many things, he has been Chairman of the National Commission on Urbanisation as well as the Chief Architect of Navi Mumbai. Sitting now in his impeccable sea-facing flat on Nepean Sea Road, South Mumbai, he argues strongly for a complete overhaul in the way cities are managed. Civil society, he argues, can do very little except make a noise because no one izs answerable to them. A much more radical change is needed. Excerpts:




Why are land scams increasing in so many cities across India?
Because our political parties are using urban real estate as a prime source for finances. Of course, some money stays in some people’s pockets, but the engines driving this corruption are not individuals — they are the political parties themselves.

Like the SEZs in Goa? Yes, that’s a very good example. Goa, an honest society for hundreds of years, has become extremely corrupt in a breathtakingly short period — just over a decade. How did this come about — and so quickly? Individual corruption is not enough. No, the main actors have been the political parties — and their need for funds. So any local politician, especially an ambitious one, soon learns how to earn ‘brownie points’ with the party bosses in Delhi.

But didn’t this always happen?
No, right up to the late 60s, industrialists financed political parties (a pattern that might have started with the Birlas and the Freedom Movement). Then during the Emergency, someone realised there were much bigger percentages in defence contracts. In fact, those kickbacks are astronomical. But because the CMs of the states don’t have access to these funds, they have to exploit urban real estate. In the process, they are ruining our cities.

But why doesn’t the Opposition expose what is going on?
Because every political party needs all the money it can get — and they believe, quite correctly, that their time will come next. In that sense, Mumbai is like a great milch cow, waiting to be exploited. In fact, one of the biggest perks you get when you are elected CM is the opportunity to loot the principal cities of the state — with hardly any accountability. For instance, the CM of Maharashtra, who makes all the major decisions for Mumbai (eg, increasing FARs, changing landuse, etc), is not accountable to the people of this city — because he was not elected by them. He, and all the other members of his Cabinet, have been elected from some other villages and towns in the state. So they have no reason to pay any real attention to what the citizens of Mumbai feel. And the same is true of Bangalore and Karnataka, Chennai and Tamil Nadu, etc. And each state generates its own funds, acting as a ‘Profit Centre’. This has huge advantages for the CM as well. For as long he (or she) does not ask the Centre for funds, he can give tickets to his own chamchas. On the other hand, if he asks for help, then he will have to accept someone else’s candidates. So it’s in his interests to keep the system going.

But what about public opinion, and the role of the NGOs?
Did you know that India has the largest number of NGOs in the world? It’s a reflection of the frustration of the citizenry. But unfortunately, government does not have to pay any attention at all — because their re-election depends on other voters who are not concerned with this city. So for all practical purposes, our NGOs are just a form of cabaret, performing for the media — or perhaps for themselves.

How can we change this?

……

Continue reading the story at the  Tehelka Magazine.

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Written by Vishnu Kumar

October 26, 2008 at 7:59 pm