Land, money rules the roost in State

Jul 25, 2012, 07:19 IST | Ranjona Banerji

If the fight between the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress is all about Maharashtra and not about where Sharad Pawar sits, then what in Maharashtra is worth fighting for? Land comes first, from all indications and then money (they are nearly the same thing, but not quite). There is not one infrastructure or development project which cannot have questions raised about it. Since 1995, it’s as if the state has been nothing more than a goodie bag for politicians of all dispensations to dip into at will.

Three former chief ministers, all from the Congress, are under scrutiny for corruption. That is surely unprecedented. The reason no one likes current Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is that he has tried to clean up the system and kept the builder lobby at bay. As a consequence, he’s slowed down on government procedures, which means nothing has happened in two years. That’s a lose-lose for Maharashtra: damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Mr Clean: The reason no one likes current CM Prithviraj Chavan is because he has tried to clean up the system and kept the builder lobby at bay

It’s not all about infrastructure and industry though. Let’s look at malnutrition. In 2011, the people were informed by the women and child development minister that in the last four years, over one lakh 17,000 children had died from malnutrition. The deaths were spread across the state from tribal areas to urban slums. This is a state which contributes the highest GDP to India and by an enormous margin over the closest state which is Andhra Pradesh, according to Planning Commission figures.

Yet, children starve to death, farmers commit suicide and a drought-like situation has developed in the hinterland. The government meanwhile is busy putting out little political fires — but was unable to save its own headquarters from fire. The Adarsh scam, the NCP tantrum, the Bhujbal problem, the Tatkare scandal, irrigation problem… should one even mention the many transgressions of the bureaucracy and the police?

In case anyone thought that these problems were limited to the Congress and NCP, think again. Take a look at the wonderful condition which Mumbai finds itself in, ruled for over a decade by the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The slum redevelopment project introduced by the Sena-BJP after they won the assembly elections in 1995 is one of the most successful money-making rackets ever. Right now, the best that these two can do is to win municipal elections. After that, it’s sit back and watch Mumbai go to seed. No roads, no drainage, no garbage collection, bad schooling, but plenty of money to be made to ensure that nothing works. The builder-developer lobby that is apparently being kept out of the state has no problems with manipulating the BMC. And the contractor lobby which has ensured that Mumbai is brought to its knees every three days — it rules the roost. Do you want to hear it? Yes, Mumbai contributes the highest GDP to the nation’s coffers.

The stat that Maharashtra has to watch out for though is rate of growth. Although Maharashtra tops in the amount of GDP overall, states like UP, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi are growing much faster — at about 2 per cent more. If Maharashtra remains stagnant, it will have nothing to show.

Sadly for Prithviraj Chavan, his attempts to clean up the state have only added to the stagnation. Since very little has happened, he has very little to show for all his work. It is possible that the mess was so bad that he had to slow the government down to clean it up, but the world and government cannot work like that. Still, if people are angling to get him out, it’s a shame.

Meanwhile on Monday, the government ruled to remove the name ‘Bombay’ from 84 acts. This was, of course, the most pressing problem facing Maharashtra.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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