LAND SCAM - One for my officer, one for my boy...
Land and property are coveted assets. So why are chief ministers allowed to give these away as favours? JEEMON JACOB tracks how Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has been using his quotas
IN NOVEMBER, Chief Minister of Karnataka BS Yeddyurappa almost lost his job, due to the uproar over preferential allotment of land and property to his sons and close associates. He has since cancelled the allotments, asked his children to move out of his official residence, and retained his seat through some deft political manoeuvring and muscle-flexing. At the height of the campaign against him, as political opponents paraded on apparent moral high ground, TEHELKA published details of plots similarly allotted by previous Karnataka chief ministers, both of the Congress and the JD(S), to relatives, servants, drivers, maids and partymen (LAND SCAM 2.0, 4 December). The purpose was not to make Yeddyurappa’s wrongdoings look less shocking, but to show that the problem was endemic and needed rooting out. The right given to chief ministers to hand out public land to a favoured few — relatives, bureaucrats, judges, police officers and others — smacks of nepotism and arbitrary feudal power structures that should have no place in a modern democracy. (Though there is no immediate proof of this, some of these allotments could also be benami transactions, in which the ultimate ownership remains with the distributor of the largesse, camouflaged by a stack of fake documents.)
This power — euphemistically called “discretionary quota” — has even been used to favour allegedly corrupt army officers like General Deepak Kapoor (AT EASE WITH GREASE, TEHELKA, 20 November), who was given a large 500 sq yd plot in Haryana by the Hooda government, which then faced the embarrassment of refusing him permission to sell it off before five years had elapsed, as per rules. The plot was given to him by the government as preferential allotment in recognition for his ‘outstanding achievement’.
This week, continuing its campaign against out-of-turn allotments of land and property, TEHELKA has an exposé on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. The Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) which commands a large land bank, has a government discretionary quota (GDQ) under which 15 percent of all allotments can be recommended by the CM. Eligibility for allotment under GDQ is as follows: single/deserted women; widows; social workers; physically handicapped persons; defence personnel; ex-servicemen; eminent persons in the field of science, arts, literature, economics, public administration and sports; freedom fighters; government servants with unblemished service records; employees of PSUs, central government undertakings and nationalised banks; PF institutions; journalists; university staff; and employees of local bodies and municipalities.
While some of these categories sound kosher, most of them raise a fundamental question: why should the government have the power to give coveted land to select employees and journalists over others? The only rationale could be proximity — which is an untenable reason for being the beneficiary of political favours, often worth several crores.
Setting this aside, even within the legal ambit of the GDQ, TEHELKA’s investigation shows that many of the allotments in Karunanidhi’s tenure have violated the rule book. Many bureaucrats and their relatives have been given plots or flats under the category of “social worker”. Some of these last did social work when they were in college; many of them claim to be volunteers in such routine activity as helping in blood donation or eye camps. Many have issued certificates to themselves; some have acquired letters from the Lions and Rotary Clubs with vague endorsements. In other violations, the rules say that no one who has any other land or property in Tamil Nadu or any other capital city, in either their own or spouse or minor children’s name, can apply for GDQ allotments. TEHELKA found this is routinely violated.
The other brazen violation lies in the claim of “unblemished” service records as a qualification for allotment. When RTI activist V Gopalakrishnan sought a list of such bureaucrats, Additional Secretary S Solomon Raj said, “As no unblemished government servant certificates are issued, the question of furnishing a list of names does not arise.” The additional secretary also clarified that the home department didn’t have such a list. This is the phantom category under which many public servants like Jaffar Sait, 1986 batch IPS officer, now Inspector General of Police–Intelligence, got large allotments of land in prime locations. Why them more than hundreds of others? That’s a democratic question the chief minister will have to answer.