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 •  Contact the author Absurdly low rents, illegal occupation
Shailesh Gandhi

20 December 2005

I have been pursuing the issue of the Maharashtra state government allowing lessees whose leases have expired being allowed to continue occupation of public lands at absurdly low rents. This is based on information obtained by me under Right To Information (RTI).

In July this year, I asked for a personal meeting with the Chief Secretary R M Premkumar on this matter. I met him in his office on 20 July, and gave him a written complaint on the subject of 'Arbitrariness and huge loss of Public money in Public lands given on Lease.' (See document, page 1.) One of the enclosures I gave clearly spelt out that the loss to the public exchequer was of thousands of crores every year (page 2). Premkumar said he was calling a meeting of a host of officials to look into this.

Estimating the losses

I have assumed a market rate of Rs 44000 per sq.m. for lands in the island of Mumbai. This will perhaps be the lowest, the highest is likely to be more than double of this rate. Assuming a return of 8% on the market value, the lease rent would Rs 3530 per sq.m.

The Collector of Mumbai has confirmed in writing that 386 leases have expired and the lessees continue to be in possession of the land. The land area involved is 298.5 acres -- half the Mill lands area -- which gets a lease rent of Rs 2.53 crores every year. If the lease rents were to be charged at anywhere near today's market rents, (even at the fairly low figure of Rs. 3500 per sq.m.) the additional revenue should Rs 424 crores per year.

If these were twenty five year leases, the stamp duty on the lease deeds would be about the same figure, which would accrue in the first year.

Separately, the Municipal Corporation has about 40 acres where leases have expired and a revenue loss of Rs 53 crores. (1 crore = 10 million.)

 •  Cities subsidising the rich
 •  Another muster roll fraud On 17 September I sent the Chief Secretary reminder, in which I had stated: "I am sure you would have either decided that the complaint did not merit any attention, or taken some action to stop the continuance of these large losses to the public exchequer. I would be obliged is you could please let me know within the next fortnight, the action taken in this matter. If for some reasons, you feel my complaint is frivolous and completely lacking in merit, please let me know." (Page 5).

Since I got no reply, I sent a fresh right to information application on 14 October (page 6), where I described the sequence of communications I had with the government so far, also reminding them that the loss per day to the public exchequer was a few crore rupees. In the new RTI application, I asked for the daily progress report of action taken on this complaint, photocopies of any correspondence and if there has been a decision not take action, I asked for photocopy of this decision detailing the reasons.

I got a reply from P L Pathak, Public Information Officer at the Chief Secretary's office, saying that looking at the gravity of the matter, the Principal Secretary-Revenue had been asked to organise a meeting of the concerned officials to discuss the matter. To understand the progress of this, and to monitor it, I sent a RTI application to the PIO of the Principal Secretary revenue, saying were I asked for a copy of the communication received from the Chief Secretary's office that asked the Revenue Secretary to look into the matter, and I also asked for the daily progress report on the matter of my complaint.

I also reiterated that "I am sure you are aware that the loss to the Public is a few crores per day, and for a State whose people are in huge debt, any loss of this magnitude is unacceptable."

The answer by the PIO of the Principal Secretary Revenue (letter copy) is very revealing of the manner in which our senior public servants treat the loss of public funds - with complete disdain. In terms of action taken it states that a meeting had been called on 29/7/2005, which could not be held, and then a meeting was called on 16/8/2005, which too could not be held. They have refused to give a daily progress report since there no progress.

This then is the action taken by the Government of Maharashtra when a complaint with subtantive evidence of a loss of a few crores per day is made to the Chief Secretary! They have implicitly accepted that the complaint is not frivolous. If Maharashtra is on the verge of insolvency and there is no will to stop revenue loss of a few crores per day, are these public servants responsible?

The facts of the issue are simple, and are known. The Chief Secretary R M Premkumar in my meeting with him, did say that there were some legal impediments. I pointed out to him that the government regularly acquires land owned by citizens - even the poorest and the tribals are made to give up their abodes of centuries. The government is able to do this, even in the face of fairly fierce and contested acquisitions of land. For the government to claim that it could not take back its own land if the lessees did not agree to pay the proper market rents is a very poor excuse.

After a lot of consistent persuasion, Premkumar admitted on December 19 that "the problem of arbitrary lease rents arises because the state does not have a policy on the same." But the only thing required is a will to recover the money due to the public. No committees or investigations are required. The public includes the poorest child dying of malnutrition. The people of Maharashtra are poor and lack basic amenities, because their dues are not being recovered. Their properties are being mismanaged. Using Right To Information they will keep demanding answers, and will monitor the government's actions. We have enough wealth and will get our dues.

Shailesh Gandhi
20 Dec 2005

Shailesh Gandhi is a Mumbai based Right to Information activist and Working Committee member of National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI).

Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

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  • Posted by Ashish Waghray on December 20, 2005 07:02 PM

    The Right to Information act is one of the major achievements of the activists in recent times. Though it will not bring about a drastic change in the govt behavior, it will gradually change the system. I have tremendous faith in this. I really wish to thank the people who have worked towards making RTI Act a reality.

    The common man has now got teeth if not swords!

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