The Land Given to Hema Malini For a Song Belongs to the People

File picture of Hema Malini, who has been given 2000 square metres of land by the Maharashtra government. Credit: Biswarup Ganguly, Wikipedia commons

File picture of Hema Malini, who has been given 2000 square metres of land by the Maharashtra government. Credit: Biswarup Ganguly, Wikipedia commons

There has been outrage at actor and BJP MP Hema Malini being given a plot of 2000 sq.mtrs. at Andheri in Mumbai. This plot is worth much more than that — some estimates say almost 50 crores — and is being given away for Rs. 70000 by the State government. An additional bonus of 30000 sq.mtrs. is also being given to her purportedly for maintaining a garden. There is always a possibility that this garden will become a personal garden or there may be construction on it sometime in the future.This will then be euphemistically called ‘development’ or ‘redevelopment’. Hema Malini and the state’s revenue minister Eknath Khadse have expressed surprise at the outrage and criticism being voiced by citizens.

Both of them feel that the dream girl is being targeted unfairly. Hema Malini, who wants to set up a dance academy, has declared that it was her “right to demand space for the spread of Indian culture”.  As an Indian, I feel offended at this act of giving subsidy to rich being termed as the upholding of Indian culture. Khadse displays greater candor when he justifies this transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich by quoting earlier examples when such largesse was given. By his logic, if wrongs have been perpetrated earlier, why should there be any objection to a repeat of these? If Congress enriched its members and cronies, surely BJP has the same right, he seems to be saying. If thieves and criminals were to take inspiration from Mr. Khadse’s argument, they will be arguing in court that there are many others who have committed more grievous crimes, hence they should not be punished.

This is no trusteeship

Another justification provided is that Hema Malini and others who have taken such subsidies before are actually acting as trustees of government and doing the job which it cannot do. I am touched by this display of honesty by those in power. Gandhiji believed in the concept of trusteeship, but could never have envisioned this model of trusteeship of the rich on behalf of the poor. Those in power have not understood the idea of democracy being ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.’ They believe they have a right over the properties and wealth of the nation.

Let us agree with minister Khadse and Hema Malini that this not the first land grab. We are all aware that various sections of society – journalists, businessmen, judges, artists, politicians, bureaucrats and many others – have all happily taken from the state what they could. This real estate belongs to all citizens including the poorest. The money which Hema Malini will not pay for this land belongs to the man in Vidarbha who may be contemplating suicide since he cannot buy the next meal for his family.

Property belonging to the State belongs to all citizens. All Indians pay taxes directly or indirectly. The rich often think since they pay more, they have greater rights. It is often forgotten that the real estate and lands of the State belong to all citizens equally. Many of those in power have helped themselves to government owned property by using subterfuges like setting schools, colleges, hospitals, culture, even clubs. Civil society believes this is illegitimate enrichment and hence it objects to this transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Such transfers are legitimized by devices like rules, quotas, government resolutions and circulars. Many of these violate Article 14 of the constitution, but who will implement this fundamental right?

Too many arbitrary powers

The real flaw is the arbitrary powers which have been assumed by the rulers elected by us, and the bureaucrats appointed to provide service to us. There has been an acceptance that once land is given to anyone for any purpose he — and she — becomes de facto owner. Hence various devices are used to first hand over lands to an individual through a trust, institution or cooperative society. After that it is accepted that possession becomes de facto ownership. A zamindar or king could not have asked for more powers. Large tracts are given away at highly subsidized rates, and very cunningly justified by rules and orders. This then becomes the justification for giving the land at a fraction of its value. In Hema Malini’s case a convoluted argument has been advanced to charge 25% of the land cost in 1976. We should thank them that they did not decide to charge 25% of the cost in 1916.

The solution lies in removing all such arbitrary powers. We must accept that such subsidies on estates have largely not achieved social objectives. If the revenue due to the State on estate is collected as per market rates, the State need not be debt ridden. Just on this one count the Maharashtra State foregoes thousands of crores annually. Land is the wealth of the State and can fetch inflation-proof revenue. By allowing our lands to be given away we are ensuring a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. We are depriving our future generations from their open spaces and wealth. This is unethical, immoral and in contravention of article 14 of our constitution. All discretionary powers to those in power allowing them to give lands at subsidized rates must end. Hema Malini and the Chief Minister must take the lead just now. If they do not, citizens must oppose this transaction and take steps to stop this pernicious practice. There is considerable revenue available from the lands of our State. Let us tap this and banish poverty.

Shailesh Gandhi is the former Information Commissioner with the Central Information Commission

Categories: Government

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    (1) I agree with the author of this article. His suggestion that all arbitrary power given to bureaucrats and their political masters must be abolished is a correct suggestion. It is found that such discretionary powers are invariably misused to confer undue advantages on those who are well-connected with politicians and bureaucrats.(2) Allotment of government land for Trusts, Foundations and similar cultural/educational organizations is okay so long as these organizations engage in what are called not-for-profit activities. But over the years what happens is that land so acquired becomes invaluable asset of these organizations. Then the next generation of members of the managing committees of such organizations forget the noble objective for which land was allotted originally. What is the guarantee that this would not be the case in case of land proposed to be allotted to “ Natyavihar Kalakendra Charity Trust” of Ms Hema Malini? Of course, Ms Hema Malini’s request for land to her Trust may be as per existing rules but let us not forget that only those individuals who are having with political influence get such allotment.

  • Shama Zehra Zaidi

    In many countries land is given on lease to cultural bodies for a period of 5, 10, 15,20, 25 or 30 years. Sometimes the cost of the building is also borne by the government and the lease amount is paid in yearly instalments to include this expense. However, at the end of the lease period there is a review, and if the cultural body is defunct or performing below a minimum standard the facilities are handed over to some other body, individual or trust. perhaps this method would be more suitable for our country. Normally there is more than one applicant for the facility and the best one is chosen.

  • Rajalakshmi J

    ” The money which Hema Malini will not pay for this land belongs to the
    man in Vidarbha who may be contemplating suicide since he cannot buy the
    next meal for his family”. Please highlight this statement.

    The damage done by hemamalini is much more grave. Read what Galgali says :-

    “On the basis of the facts before the government, the new
    land allotment was initiated by this govt by ignoring the previous
    violations and the Principal Secretary (Revenue) also overlooked the
    issue by not going through the past records. Serious violation of
    destruction of mangroves was overlooked and while taking no action the
    issue was glossed over and the new government has misused the rule of
    valuation of 1976 and allotted another land in lieu of the old one for
    pittance Rs 70,000 at village Ambivili admeasuring 2,000 sq mtrs and the
    land being reserved for Garden.”

    Loss of mangroves is in itself a serious issue. What “culture” & “tradition” are hemamalinis talking about ?

    Much earlier Daily Pioneer of Chandan Mitra reported how celebs like Amitabh Bachchan , Jeetendra & Sachin Tendulkar own lands belonging to Farmers in fictitious names by exploiting some loophole in Indian law.

    That she belongs to bjp which came to power by promising to crack down on corrupt people in high places is shocking indeed.
    She once travelled in a local train in Tamil Nadu without buying a TICKET. Told the TTE ” my sponsor forgot to send my ticket”.
    Soon became bjp MP.

  • Indradeb Pal

    The commercial rates must be charged for this land and the Government must ensure that this money is collected to reduce the fiscal deficit. If Govt cannot find sponsors to cover the commercial rate for this land then citizen’s such wealth should not be squandered.

  • Meenal Mamdani

    Is there a law that allows govt ministers and bureaucrats to hand out freebies to their party members, friends or political cronies? If not, then is this gift approved by the legislature? If the answer is “no” to both questions, citizens can file a PIL to demand return of land to the govt.

    Ms. Zaidi’s suggestion is more doable. But even here the rules that state the basic minimum that must be done to avail of such largess should be clear. It is well known for instance that all the big hospitals in Mumbai add the words “and Research Center” in the name of the hospital. That allows the rich hospital to get land for a pittance and pay very low taxes. If one looks for evidence of research, very few of the physicians actually engage in research, have any papers in well known peer-reviewed journals or have participation in multi-center clinical trials. Yet the myth of research is continued for tax benefit.

  • antony george

    As promised by Modiji, acche din have truly arrived, but only for BJP netas.

    Why cannot the govt build a dance school and rent it out to Hemamalini until she attains the age of 70? After that, the school should be handed back to govt.

    Land is being grabbed everywhere in India by societies, trusts, and industries, and many politicians are running such trusts.

    Land is given at subsidized rate to trusts run by politicians to start engineering and medical colleges, but the colleges are charging lakhs and crores from students. Merit is not considered, only money. Land allotted to industries at low prices also ultimately gets sold to developers for 100 times the price.