Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pasricha To Patil: India's Ultimate Public-Private Partnerships

A few years ago, while looking for an apartment for rent in central Mumbai, I chanced upon a flat in a building that `belonged' entirely to bureaucrats working for the state government (Maharashtra).

I met the owner of the flat, who worked with a state-run industrial agency and discussed the terms, which, not surprisingly, were quite outlandish. What was more outlandish, as I thought more about it, was how the gentleman in question had acquired the property, on prime land, worth crores of rupees or close to half a million dollars when his annual salary could not have been more than Rs 500,000 or $12,000.

The plot, so to speak, was simple. Mr K, along with his peers, had cornered a government-owned piece of land in the heart of the city and got it `dereserved'. Next step, get together, form a society and put up the building. At prices that anywhere between a tenth and twentieth of the real cost. It also dawned on me that Mr K had not only ripped me off as a taxpayer by usurping public land in the first place but was now demanding extortionate rents for the same !

The Seed Money

Mr K is of course not alone in this most public, mega land-grabbing spree the city of Mumbai has seen in the last few decades. Hundreds and maybe thousands of bureaucrats, police officers and politicians, among others have cornered acres of publicly owned land in the city for their benefit. State Director General of Police (DGP) Dr P S Pasricha was caught up in a sting operation that highlighted his proclivity for the real estate business and of course, the staggering financial muscle to back it up.

It then emerged how the seed money (at least on the face of it) had emerged. Deputy Chief Minister of the state R R Patil said and I quote, "Pasricha booked a flat for Rs 2.97 lakh in 1975 in Dilwara cooperative housing scheme (in prime south Mumbai) comprising government officers as members and took its possession in 1985. Later he sold it in 2000 for Rs 1.40 crore. For this Pasricha had sought necessary approval from the government.

“In 1985, Pasricha’s family members bought 2.5 acre land in Shahanoorwadi area of Aurangabad for Rs 99,000. The land later came into Municipal Corporation limits. It was sold in 2003 for Rs 1.75 crore. Although it was not mandatory for Pasricha to inform the government of this deal as it was done by family members, he nevertheless informed the government”, Patil said further.

What's His Real Job ?

“In 1986, Pasricha became a member of the New Bharat Cooperative Housing Society by paying Rs 18,000. He got possession on the 480 sq. metre plot in 2000 and paid Rs 25,000 as development charges. In 2000, after he sold the Dilwara society flat, Pasricha bought commercial space at Kolhapur for Rs 1.27 crore. In 2001, he bought a flat for Rs one crore in Lady Ratan Tower at Lower Parel in Mumbai. For this, his son took a bank loan of Rs 61 lakh. Rs 39 lakh was paid from the sale of Dilwara flat and Rs 13 lakh was from rental and deposit of the Kolhapur commercial space, he pointed out.

All this makes me wonder how he ever had time to do his real job. But then, Pasricha and Mr K are similar. I would only rate Mr K as less enterprising since, on the face of it, he managed only a flat or two in the city near free of cost. Its actually quite interesting how this thing has shaped out. Because the `original sin' is not a sin at all, as its blessed by government and the bureaucracy. So why penalise them for the proceeds of something that was never seen as wrong.

This must stop. A land-scarce city like Mumbai cannot be subject to more looting and plunder by government servants. Why do we still call these guys servants ? Its time to go to the source of this plunder and not get distracted by the outcome. Its about going after the guys who perpetrated the original loot, `legally, or otherwise. Yes, on the search for the house, between asserting my principles and of course being constrained by affordability, I lost that flat to someone else.

Patil For President

As for Pasricha, the sting operation surfaced in April. Presumably its all over and forgotten if not forgiven as well, at least to my knowledge. Now we are all focussed on a unheard-of (at least by me) politician from Maharashtra with an equally stellar track record of taking people for a ride - like depositors in a bank she floated or on the sugar mill loans that she defaulted. But Pratibha Patil has greater expectations, unlike Dr Pascricha. She is running for President of India.

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