Using the poor as bait for profit

Using the poor as bait for profit

In a poor country with unequal distribution of wealth, the rulers and planners are supposed to think of helping the poor to come up to a certain standard of living so that the gap between the rich and the poor is lessened and social unrest is restrained. But the profit motive of institutions and individuals triggers techniques and schemes which are started in the name of the poor but implicitly work for profit of the rich.

Both the Union and state governments have announced schemes of houses for the poor. For such schemes lands are offered at moderate and nominal rates with condition that some certain amount of houses are to be built for the poor while in remaining area houses for the rich or for those who can afford high prices may be built in order to cover the cost of low cost houses. The schemes prima facie are very attractive for the realty sector and prominent builders or construction companies come forward to accept the offer and make a neat profit.

But whether the construction companies are actually providing houses for the poor or only accepting the condition without actually carrying out the scheme is not duly verified. The state government lacks special squad to inspect such social schemes and in view of the present corrupt system even though the inspection by government authorities is mandatory, the concerned authorities are so pleases that they do not take care to investigate or take action promptly if any lacunae is pointed out by socially conscious citizens or social organisations.

Lack of transparency

Recent incident at Mumbai is quite indicative of the way builders get the benefit of the scheme without carrying out the social aspect of the scheme. The news that men and women rushed to the Maharashtra state chief minister’s office with prescribed forms for getting houses in the metro city with cost of only Rs 54,000 created commotion when it was officially declared that it was a rumor on the basis of which people rushed with forms which were not officially circulated.

The incident triggered investigation to seek the truth behind and the facts. It is disclosed under right to information Act (RTI) that it was not only not the rumour but formal assurance according to which a builder company was allotted land by the state government for providing houses for the poor families but after getting the land for low cost, the builder company failed to abide by its promise. Chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan claimed that there was no such scheme and it was all a rumour.

But a prominent Marathi daily, Loksatta carried out an investigation and exposing the way urban land ceiling Act (ULC) was repealed on pretext that the land freed after  repealing the Act would get much more land for providing low cost housing to poor families. Accordingly, 44,000 hectares of land which was under restriction due to the Act was released for the said scheme of low cost housing.  Investigation under the RTI unfolded the shocking truth that because of repealing the ULC Act government’s control over 36,000 hectares of land was removed and builders were almost free to use the land.

The report also points out the background and another reason why the ULC Act was repealed. The Union government had allotted funds of Rs 23,696 crore to the state government for implementation of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and the state government decided that the builders could use it for high cost housing projects without providing low cost housing to the poor families.

It triggered another expose of the state government sanctioning 230 hectares of land for the ‘Pavai area development project’ to a prominent builder company who was to provide low cost housing to the poor under the scheme but failed to do accordingly and instead reaped the harvest by building high cost posh houses. The leader of ‘Maharashtra Lokshahi Aghadi’ (Maharashtra Democratic Front ) led by RPI’s leader Prakash Ambedkar has taken up their cause and organised regular agitation against the deception in which both the state government and prominent builders are allegedly involved. The Centre needs to rework its policy regarding the sanctioning of funds under JNNURM and bring in more transparency in its utilisation.