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Corruption in high places: Realty, natural resources scanned
By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The India Against Corruption (IAC) revelations on scams galore have created a furore in the country. In real terms it is almost like an uprising which has the potential to nail dishonest politicians and is supported by the aam aadmi as no Party has taken up these issues earlier.

The disclosure on Sonia’s son-in-law Robert Vadra-DLF nexus underscored IAC’s courage as mum is the word when it comes to India’s ‘First Family’. Kejriwal revealed that the realty firm gave Vadra Rs 58 crores an ‘unsecured loan’ and favours which he used to purchase properties worth Rs 500 crores. In return, Hooda’s Haryana Government gave DLF land from the green belt meant for public utilities.

Importantly, it is no secret that post liberalization, real estate activity is not monitored by urban planners, water experts, seismic scientists, environmental engineers in sustainable urbanism. Whereby, realty firms flaunt rules aided by politicians and bureaucrats all over the country by usurping poor people’s land at throwaway price and putting them in dire stress.

Lately, the realtors are clamouring environmental impact assessment studies, which precede clearance of real estate and other development projects be diluted. Whereby, the proposal to set up the National Investment Board is a result of such lobbying, notwithstanding, a section within the Union Government opposing this, in view of the society’s larger interest.

Evidently, the objective of ‘progress’ in the realty sector is at odds with the larger interests of society. Recall, recently the Punjab and Haryana High Court prohibited builders from extracting groundwater as recognition of the rapidly depleting groundwater table. Builders have been advised to use only treated sewage water for new projects.

Meanwhile, reports of depletion of the groundwater table has affected 267 of 639 districts with excess fluoride, 385 with nitrates beyond permissible levels, 53 have arsenic and in another 270 there is high level of iron, all which have severe affect on human health. Besides these, aquifers in 63 districts contain heavy metals like lead, chromium and cadmium, the presence of which poses considerable danger to health.

Kejriwal’s other significant outburst has been against the long-time Reliance-politician nexus. Though this nexus is well known fact, the IAC founder showed how the company flaunted rules by demanding revision of gas prices from the KG Basin from $ 2.5 per unit for 17 year supplied to the state-owned NTPC which was later revised by Reliance to $ 4.25 per unit in 2007.

Now pressure is being exerted again on the Manmohan Singh Government to hike the price to $ 14.24 per unit. Worse, not only has Reliance broken the contract deal but also stopped producing the required 80 mmscnd (million standard cubic metres a day) of gas. Questions have been raised whether the company is intentionally producing less gas than required --- from 60 mmscmd in 2010 to 26 presently --- and if it has the technical expertise to undertake such a complicated project.

Pertinently, the only person to raise objections was the former Petroleum Minister, Jaipal Reddy, who was removed in the latest reshuffle of the union Cabinet. Rumours abound that Reddy’s honesty cost him the job. Earlier too, Mani Shankar Iyer was replaced because he was not in favour of raising the price to $ 4.2 per mm Btu.

Undeniably, the politician-business nexus is now in the open with the Government practicing maun vrat on the Vadra-DLF deal and the RIL project. Shockingly, the CAG is not being allowed to inspect the RIL project the way it wants as the company has objected to the conditions of scrutiny, it wants only accounts to be inspected.

Highlighting, that the country’s precious natural resources are being used for the benefit of Mukesh Ambani’s company. Astoundingly, while the Government gets less than 20 per cent of profits, 80 per cent is taking by Reliance.

In such a scenario, these projects cannot be termed as ‘development projects’ benefitting the nation instead these help companies to soar up their profits and amass huge wealth. Also, as Coalgate exposes, most politicians use their political connections to get land, coal and bauxite mines and valuable natural wealth much below market prices.

What to speak of rampant flouting of rules and regulations in the mining sector coupled with illegal mining by private companies to mint money. Recently a Central Minister alleged that Odisha’s mining scam is probably more than that of Karnataka and Goa combined.

Arguably, is this the type of activity private parties should resort to in the name of being actively involved in the industrialization process? Clearly, if this is allowed to continue with the Government remaining a mute spectator, what will happen in the coming years? Think. While the Government wants to cut down on subsidies in the name of curbing fiscal deficit, all types of favours are being extended to corporate houses.

There is no gainsaying, the Government’s regulation is very poor and it appears it is only geared to look after the industrial class’s interests, not the common man whose suffering continues to increase. Also, the private sector can only play a meaningful role in the development process when it is transparent and adheres to the laws of the land.

In this connection, the 2011 RBI Annual Report states: “Businesses also need to rejig their strategies that aim at operating in a more competitive environment earning normal profits within the legal and environmental framework and not try to exploit rules and weak regulation to its advantage at cost of integrity”.

Thus, there is definite need for a change in the development strategy of the Government. Undoubtedly, Anna Hazare and IAC have done an excellent job in exposing the corrupt and there is now need for someone to highlight the new development strategy that looks after the interests of the majority only.

The time has come to have a policy which while encouraging private investment should be judicious about our land and natural resources along-with extending subsidies and financial support to the poor, economically weaker sections and low income groups.

Obviously weeding out corruption and bringing in transparency is very important. Be it the private or public sector, Robert Vadra or the aam aadmi!

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News Updated at : Saturday, November 10, 2012
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