January 28, 2008
Yesterday, Sunday the 27th January of 2008, I had what I would count as among my most happy moments in this lifetime.
It was afternoon time -- around 4 pm. I had just left my Dad's home at Shastri Nagar, Andheri West (i go visit my dad at least once a week, and stay overnight; this time, i had stayed the saturday night and on sunday afternoon left to head to my home in kandivli that is 13 kms away from my dad's home).
I walked to the main road outside of Shastri Nagar complex to catch a public bus or an autorickshaw. I noticed there was a key maker on the roadside (a key maker is a guy who has a small box with different sizes of un-cut keys from which he can cut new keys as per your requirements). I wanted to make two duplicates of my home key. I gave it to him. He told me it will take 10-15 minutes.
Now, marked the beginning of those happiest moments. I saw three little girls, aged 8-11 years. This roadside had a few trees. Right where I was waiting was a tree and this tree had small light green-coloured fruits (it was not amla/gooseberry) and some of them had fallen down.
These girls, who came from families of pavement dwellers staying a km down the road, were picking those very few fruit droppings. One of them decided to throw stones up at the tree branches to make fruits fall. Since she was small her throws were very weak and did not even reach the higher tree branches.
I was watching all this unfold in front of me and I decided to step in. I spoke with the girls and told them that I will help them in throwing the stones and hoping for fruits to fall. They collected some small stones (there is no dearth of pebbles and stones on the roadsides here) and one by one were giving it to me. I threw a stone up at the tree branches, threw another, and lo and behold! About 5-6 fruits in The fruits started tumbling down with every second throw of mine! The girls were delighted and collected the fallen fruits. I tell you, my friends, watching their delighted faces was what made those moments among the most happy in my life!
As this tree was on the roadside, some of the many fruits falling down were spilling on to the road where traffic was passing by. The girls, without taking care, would dart after every falling fruit. I had to be firm with them to not rush to the road. I collected a few fruits that used to go on to the middle of the road, so that they wouldn't try to do it themselves and endanger themselves. I threw and threw stones and the girls collected around 50 small fruits. They were chatting with me all the time this was going on "Uncle this!" or "Uncle that!".
This fruit felling activity went on for 10-15 minutes. By then, the key maker had readied my duplicate keys. I paid him, but continued helping the girls for another 3-4 minutes. With a heavy heart I stopped afterwards. I told them I had to go. I felt sad I had to leave them and the fun were were having together.
The three girls, despite the tough conditions they were coming from, had a cheerful persona and that was inspirational. I did not help them as much as they did in making me see yet again the delightful nature of such children.
May our universe shower these little girls with the brightest blessings!
January 22, 2008
So, the stock markets in India, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, UK took a steep fall on Monday (21 Jan) and Tuesday (22 Jan) this week. Here, in India, the tendency to blame everyone else other than yourself for any crash continues shamelessly.
What makes it worse is the attempt to wriggle out of monetary tightness through deceipt and governmental influence. I just saw a news report wherein India's finance minister P.Chidambaram was quoted as saying banks should be pragmatic and accommodate brokers in this week's stock market crash to prevent a chain reaction of defaults. Why should deposits-funded banks bail out private brokers? Brokers have made 30-40 times more money in the 5-year old bull run than the bank depositors.
Defaults and bankruptcies are an integral part of true capitalism and should be allowed to occur. Those who earn private profits should never be bailed out by public funds when they make private losses.
In the last many years I have been noticing such phoney champions of capitalism like Chidambaram. They have always appeared to me to be cronyists rather than true capitalists. Recently, the land-grabbing-SEZ champion, Kamal Nath, was also reported to be in favour of bailing out exporters on their losses due to a depreciating dollar.
We are living in a time when these cronyists leave no stone unturned to forcibly grab the lands of the farmers, villagers and poor people of India through laws like the SEZ and British-era Land Acquisition Act. They grant SEZ-like huge subsidies to companies and the companies' political masters.
Will the Indian media please stop blindly cheering these fake champions of development? Not that others like the Modis and the Left's Modis like Buddhadebs are any better. Throw a torchlight on them all. Bring out the fact in true capitalism private property is not usurped by government or others. So why are the private lands of farmers, villagers and others in rural India being usurped in the name of development projects and SEZs?
These are just some of the many many clinks in the supposedly economic powerhouse that our country is. Again, not that others like US, UK, France, Germany, China, Japan are any better. They have their own versions of cronyism going on.
January 20, 2008
Not many readers of newspapers, magazines and media websites and viewers of television news channels might be aware of what transpires behind the scenes in the editors' cabins, reporters' bays and outside coffee houses/restaurants.
Among the many good or ugly things that happen behind the scenes, is one that I find to be a dirty machination (i say this based on my reasonably long experience -- on 1 January this year I completed 14 years in journalism, and majority of my stories have been on the Indian stock market).
It is the way in which chiefs of entities try to influence and pressurise the Editor-in-Chief if you have written something that exposes a negative deed or trait about those entities. The one entity that I suspect (you can never know for sure because your Editor does not tell you about it) has done this with regard to my stories is the stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). When I was in Business Standard (1994-97) the then-chairman of Sebi made a phone call to T.N.Ninan, editor-in-chief of Business Standard, sometime in 1996. I was given to understand that the call was in connection with those stories of mine that took Sebi to task for its various failures, weaknesses and negligences.
The current Sebi chairman, M.Damodaran, is no better. He is the most cunning chairman Sebi has got it in its 17-year old history. He treats the media shabbily (for instance, he has never replied to queries sent to him for any story of mine that required Sebi's point of view to be reflected) and tries to bludgeon journalists as per his whims and fancies. I suspect he calls the Editors too directly to influence them to stop writers like me from writing stories that he considers being bad for Sebi's image.
It's a sorry state of affairs when a law-enforcer himself turns into a manipulator and tries to suppress the press from writing freely. And this is just one of many many clinks in India's claims of being a democratic economic powerhouse.
January 03, 2008
Below is a classic example of how Bombay's construction companies and local government authorities including municipal corporation and state government departments get together to twist rules to benefit the builders and enable kickbacks to politicians, bureaucrats and government officers.
This case is about Hiranandani Builders.
Here it is:
Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2007 20:27:02 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [narmada_andolan] Land@40paise/acre in Mumbai for Builders!!!
National Alliance of People's Movements
28, 'A' wing, 1st Floor, Haji Habib Building, Naigaon Cross Road
Dadar (East), Mumbai â€“ 400014 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Land doled out for luxury & profits, violates law & deprives others.
- Slum dwellers deposit Rs 2000 with Chief Minister demanding lease of land as against builders paying 40 paise/acre, challenging unjustifiable low lease rent for builders.
- Hiranadani Gardens case needs an enquiry and action
Mumbai, the financial capital houses 60% of its population, contained on less than 15% of the total land-base of the city, in slums that are inhabitable. The proliferation of slums has always been considered as an activity of 'encroachment' over public land and never an act resultant of misplaced policies and priorities. The disparity and discrimination has been exposed time and again by all those who have been associated and committed to the rights of the underprivileged who are the hard working but exploited and discriminated.
The encroachments by the influential, operating as nexus which includes builders-politicians-bureaucrats are not only ignored, but are formalized and legalized. The most shocking in this regard is the case of Hiranandani Gardens, where land to the tune of 230 acres was handed over to private land holders/developers on an 80 year lease at the abysmal rate of 40 paise per acre. In order to make this possible, laws and rules were twisted, misquoted and violated to incur pecuniary benefits to the private parties but at the cost of public resources. On one hand the 10 by 10 ft houses of the poor are bull dozed under the pretext, these being encroachment on public lands, illegal possession of land holders over more than 30,000 acres of land has been formalized by the repeal of Urban Land Ceiling Act. The case of Hiranandani Gardens is one such case in this series of violations and manipulations engaged in by the State to benefit the few while ignoring the working class of Mumbai city.
In 1977, with the avowed purpose of meeting the large housing deficit, an Area Housing Scheme termed as Powai Housing Development Scheme, was formulated for the lands situated in the villages of Powai, Kopri and Tirandaz spread over 140 hectares of land. Out of these 70.85 acres was laid for residential which included housing for economic weaker sections as well as Lower & Middle Income Groups. The scheme was estimated to cost Rs. 181.75 lacs and was to be carried out by the then 'Bombay Metropolitan Regional Development Authority. The Authority confirmed that with inflows and outflows assessment, the required amount could be made available.
In June 1979 the said Scheme was approved by the state government through Urban Development Department. Thereafter BMRDA resolved that the "financial position of BMRDA does not enable to spend such a large amount for acquisition nor is it possible for Government to assure any regular flow of funds for such purposes". Therefore it was agreed upon to favor and approve the proposal of the present land owners to allow them to continue hold the land even though above the ceiling limit under the Urban Land Ceiling Act.
Thus a tripartite agreement was entered on 19th November, 1986 by the BMRDA, the State Government with Urban Development Department and 19 land holders with Varma and sharma families and Mr. N. Hiranandani as a power of attorney. The agreement provided for exemptions from the provisions of Urban Land Ceiling Act and handing over of the land on a lease of 80 years at the rate of 40 paise per acre. In return the leasers including the sub-lease were bound to undertake the development of the lands as per the provisions of the Powai Area Development Scheme. This was to consist of construction of flats/apartments 50% of which were not to exceed the size of 40 sq.meters and the rest 50% not exceeding 80 sq. meters. Further within a period of 10 years they were to develop the infrastructure including water mains, sewers, storm water drains, roads, open spaces for the schools, parks, service industry, hospitals etc and hand over to the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. In addition flats/apartments equivalent to 15% of the FSI consumed by the land holders was to be handed over to State Government a t the rate of Rs 135 per sq. meter.
This agreement was entered into, with special provisions and exemptions for the land holders when there was a set of guidelines in existence, known as GR of 22 August 1986 which provided for the houses for the economically weaker section. Later on none less than Secretary, UDD had raised objections to the Scheme and mentioned that "UDD is opposed to entering into any more agreement other than in accordance with the provisions of GR of 22 August 1986". But these valid objections of Shri D.T Joseph were ignored and by passed.
But what is clear that as per the provisions of the agreement the lease as well as sub-lease were obliged to construct houses within the limits of 40 sq. meters to maximum of 80 sq. meters. It is a known fact that Hiranandani Gardens, as it stands today consists of 42 residential and 23 commercial buildings with no flat less than the size of 1800 sq. ft, which exceeds up to 4925 sq. ft as per the information available on their website and brochures issued by the same. Further the price quoted by them for a flat of the area 2125 sq. ft is in tune of 4 crores!
This gross violation of law has not just brought in huge profits but deprived the poor of their right to land (The dis-housed and the slum dwellers). On demanding that the Chief Minister and the Government of Maharashtra should also lease out land to the co â€“ operatives of the poor similarly even if at a rent, 100 times higher, Mr Hiranadani has stated before a journalist that he is not the only one; there are others too who have benefited the same way! Awful are the decisions of the state which go as legitimate in the name of policy and planning. It is indeed manipulation of resources by a few which leave millions destitute encroachers!
NAPM will continue to fight for every citizen's right to housing and Life!
- Simpreet Singh, Medha Patkar