The Supreme Court has rightly decided to frame guidelines for allotting public land and put a halt to whims and fancies of the powers that be. With its attention recently drawn through a PIL to the privileged being given subsidised land when the poor were deprived, the court expressed concern over State governments allotting residential plots in cities to serving and former MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats, journalists and judges of their choice by exercising their discretionary power.
The two-member bench observed: “We must have a more transparent system for allotting plots. Poor people cannot afford to have a house in cities and they are not able to get the most basic requirements of life but lands are being allotted to others. It has become discretion at the hands of the government in allocation of land and we all know what discretion leads to. Proper guidelines are required and we will examine the issues”.
It held the view that all State government schemes on land allocation would be brought under judicial scrutiny to curb the largesse and directed Chief Secretaries to provide details of schemes on land allocation to the Attorney General by October 5, who after examining these shall file a report.
What is of interest that 16 judges had recused from hearing this case as they were among the privileged in getting plots allotted! At the same time, the judgement was rather mild and did not condemn the practice of land allotment to a few in the backdrop of the gulf between the rich and the poor, the urban and rural class getting to be ever widening.
Of importance is an earlier judgment, where the bench of then Chief Justice and DY Chandrachud was constrained to direct that government authorities should not allot public land arbitrarily to commercial developers without ensuring public interest. It observed: “distribution of scarce natural resources (be made) in a manner that would achieve public good . . . In other cases where natural resources are alienated for commercial exploitation, a public authority cannot allow them to be dissipated at its unbridled discretion at the cost of public interest”, while cancelling rights of a land measuring 43,407 sq metres by Ujjain Development Authority (UDA) to a private entity.
This apart, recall that only last month, the Supreme Court had upheld the conviction of former UP Chief Secretary, who was CEO of Noida authority and a former IAS officer in the infamous land allotment scam in mid 90s, wherein several people had been initially allotted plots at various locations, but got bigger plots in better areas after conversion and payment of charges. In yet another case in Maharashtra in 2004, another bench pulled up the City Industrial Development Corporation for showing favour and said the disposal of government land by adopting a discriminatory method should be avoided and it be done in a fair and equitable manner. “State and its agencies and instrumentalities cannot give largesse such as allotment of land to any person at will and whims of political entities or officers showing favouritism,” was its firm view.
Given the cases above, are we to expect the powers that be would continue to make such arbitrary allotment and the courts would have to interfere in ensuring justice? Worse, it’s distressing that while the landless do not have land to earn livelihood, the elite sections of society are getting land in spite of having proper, rather fancy shelter.
Add to this the fact that land at subsidised rates is also being given to private educational institutions and private nursing homes, viewed as centres of education and health care for the rich and upper middle class. The economically weaker sections and the low income groups do not derive any benefits as they neither can get their wards admitted in such educational institutions, nor can avail treatment in these hospitals given the exorbitant rates.
Sadly, the political class has forgotten Vinoba Bhave’s gramdan-bhoodan movement which sought that excess land of the rich be transferred to the poor and the landless to enable them to earn their livelihood. As is well known, the concept of gramdan to bring about socio-economic change is linked with the original philosophy of Gandhi’s ‘village republic’.
This concept explored avenues for the people to meet their basic demands by working together at the village level. It was a means of uniting the rural landless with small peasantry and had potential to motivate a synthesis between the private landowner and landless labourers. Though it was successfully applied in some parts of the country, the momentum was lost after his death. The so-called elite and bureaucracy didn’t approve as it went against their interests and the Government too didn’t show much interest.
It is distressing that the whole planning and development process over the years is geared to benefit the rich and the powerful without any concern for the impoverished. Whether it is land or any other vital natural resource, the poor are deprived of these in Gandhi’s country.
Every Government talks of poverty alleviation without tangible benefits to the real beneficiaries. The tragedy is that the political class and their accomplices, the bureaucracy and planners, have not cared to think how land distribution could help upgrade the standards of living of the poor and the impoverished. Worse, some State governments are even busy acquiring land by hook or by crook by dispossessing the poor without bothering about how these people would find alternative means of livelihood.
Are we still to believe that both the Centre and State governments can change their perspective and approach towards social and economic development? It is difficult to visualise any change given the approach being adopted by both the present and past establishment. To bring about the necessary change and make available this vital land resource to the people and not a privileged few there has to be a basic change in our planning and thinking process.
Development of land has to be understood in a broader perspective – a strategy that helps in improving the living standards of the major sections of the population – the poor and the economically weaker sections. Of course, proper guidelines have to be framed in this regard to stop the rot that has seeped in land distribution. And, political will and the desire to ensure social justice in the system are imperative. INFA