Friday, May 25, 2007

Operation Munnar...!

Operation Bluestar or Brasstacks would not have gained such popularity in the local media as the much vaunted "Operation Munnar". The populace seems to be enchanted with the sight of the "CM's three man army" leading an army of earthmovers to pull down encroaching luxury properties of the high and mighty. Justice at last and in public to boot, always popular with the gallery. And the applause has been deafening and is quite likely to translate to a few extra votes next time the ballot machines are trundled out, despite the dynamic inertia of swing politics and short memory spans our voters are well known for.

I, for one, totally applaud the speed and seemingly unbiased approach shown in this drive and the fact that this has been mirrored across the State, including in our own city. After the demolition derby last month along the M.G.Road, the cheering and curious crowds might be a bit thinner on the ground than in other places, but eviction has indeed begun. There is absolutely no locus standi for encroachment of public land and the offending structure must go, even if to make an example to deter others. That much is undisputed.

What I wonder is if the underlying nexus which supports such encroachment will be tackled as well? Perhaps the odd small shop here or extra fence there could have escaped the scrutiny of the authorities. But could it be true of huge resorts, high-rise buildings and what not? Was the Revenue Department so blind....or perhaps they recruit only from among the visually challenged (with all due respect to them)?! The answer is more obvious than the encroachments themselves, plain as day infact. Most of these could never have happened without the collusion, passive or active, of the concerned authorities. Many of these would have permits and title deeds - issued under the table of course. The news reports mention that "title deeds were cancelled", so who issued them in the first place?

Such spurious title deeds will contain the details of who issued them in the first place. How many of these generous gentlemen have been brought to book? While the list of demolitions is tallied up daily like a cricket score (ahem, the Aussie score obviously!), there has been no report of any officials being arrested. Maybe the odd peon here or a clerk there, but what of the powers-that-be? Many of this permits, like those to operate resorts and hotels or major shops, have to approved by multiple entities at the higher echelons of various departments. Anyone care to find that out?

So maybe the word "prevention" is difficult to come by in India, but what of cure? These encroachments did not pop up overnight, that no administration or Chief Minister before VS got wind of them. They have been there for years on end, and yet no action was taken. Many encroachments are on roads oft travelled by Ministers, Secretaries and the like or in their home constituencies. Maybe, the tinted glass of their air conditioned cars was too thick to notice buildings sticking out over streets or being built on filled in water bodies or felled reserve forests, lol!

The previous Government could perhaps be excused, since it was itself trying to engage in the biggest encroachment of all, under the guise of the so-called "Smart" City project. Trying to package a mid-sized real estate developer called "TECOM/DIC" as an "IT firm" so that it could be granted the lavish incentives - like 240 acres of free land - guaranteed under the IT Act to IT/ITES firms. The same incentives which were denied to real IT firms like Infosys or TCS who had to cough up crores to buy land inside Technopark. Despite the changes forced into the agreement by the current Government, there is one curious fact which seems to point out that the whole schmoodle is still a scam. Ordinarily, when a company announces a large project on 200-odd acres of land, they have some sort of master plan in mind. Here, our friends from TECOM - duly kitted out as sheikhs - say they need a year to figure that "small" detail out - although they claim the precise figure of 8.8 million sft of space and 90,000 jobs. (It is to be noted that this figure mysteriously tripled from the original promise of 33,000 jobs overnight - literally - quite a magic trick!). Lol, any professional firm would dread the financial impact of such a lapse, not so in this case.

So, if anyone thinks that the nexus which is behind encroachments and other real estate scams is at only at the lower end of the administration, take a pill and look at the facts again.

Administrative intransigence is not thing, whole-scale fraud is quite something else, and it seems both are merrily at work. Of course, Kerala is much better off than elsewhere. But that is no excuse for not shifting around and cleaning out that most hallowed, feared and detested of establishments, the Government bureaucracy.

The multitude whose complexity drives the common man to the verge of frustrated insanity and prompts him to start handing out doles under the table. It is also a multitude feared and used by all political entities. Which gobbles up a lion's share of the State's budget each year. And on and on....

It is time that changes sweep through. Changes like IT enablement, like performance appraisals and pay linked to relooking at skill sets. Some of these are happening, most are still stuck in the files that the bureaucracy itself needs to process. Lol, that could take some time.

Till then, quick fixes like "Operation Munnar" will play to the crowd and accomplish little else. Perhaps it will serve to give those in power and those who abuse power second thoughts next time they issue a spurious permit or title deed. If it does that, it has done its jobs and three cheers to those who had the guts to go out and walk their talk!

1 comment:

  1. What you have highlighted is just one aspect of the whole thing....there is corruption in everything and at every level, right from registering a company to getting sales tax registration to even getting "c" forms to claim VAT credit. The official cost of a "c" form is Rs 4, the real amount needed to get one is Rs 350, so you can imagine the extent of corruption. What can be done to change this? For one, slowly but surely and unbelievably, many things in the Govt are being IT enabled...this means minimised human interaction and maximised machine processed automation in certain things and this is indeed helping cut out corruption is some areas. Unfortunately, there are too many things to be done face-to-face now and therefore corruption thrives. But don't lose hope, things are changing and will get better soon! Cheers


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.