Nobody seems to really know why Mumbai is rocked by bomb blasts now and then. But there is a theory going around that things turn explosive when the real estate market does not move along wished-for lines
As always, the truth behind why things are the way they are in Mumbai, is never clear. Just like nobody really knows where the rents collected on a per bed basis from the flophouses in central Mumbai for decades go; the truth is that nobody really knows why the city is rocked by bomb blasts every now and then.
But one thing is for certain, there is an economic reason for every action in this world which is not dictated by nature, and in Mumbai, the biggest economic reason has to do with real estate. This is not what I say, this is what a friend of mine, renegade from one of the country's most powerful super-minorities, himself in and around the list of largest land-owners in and around Mumbai, has to say.
Even this is not a secret. Try to sell an apartment in Mumbai, and learn the realities, as a friend who wanted to exit from Mumbai learnt. By the time the deal was closed, he was not just a nervous wreck, but literally glad to accept whatever was offered. And run.
Mumbai, unless you are old money or protected tenancy, bleeds on the grease of real estate transactions. These turn explosive when the real estate market does not move along wished-for lines. May sound simplistic, but this is the theory my friend chooses to expound on, and his family has huge parts of Mumbai and nearby towns in Maharashtra and elsewhere named after them.
So why is an article on the Noida Extension land issue, about to explode into a real estate scam soon, starting with a reference to Mumbai? Simply because, as it is being said in some circles, this was the first real move into real estate in Noida by the Mumbai real estate kingpins. On the surface, this may or may not be true. But if you dig deeper, then the signs are all there, down to the way the projects were executed, and the way the cash-black/cheque-white aspects kicked in.
The advertisements, for example, were huge full-page and predictably said nothing much beyond hype and one-liners and endorsements by sundry cricketers and actors. The prices were pitched artifically low, but the cash/black element was to be paid upfront, even by individual customers, unlike in "usual" transactions in the North where often there are no cash/black elements with the better builders for individual customers, or if they exist, then the cash/black parts are paid at the time of possession. No doubt, this increases the price of the 'project', but there is an element of safety built in which protects the buyer as well as the builder.
But even this is not enough. What is the clinching factor is the brazen way in which those middle-class individual customers who have booked apartments in some of these projects have been told that they can forget the cash/black part, they can forget all the sundry payments made en route, and if they behave themselves, then and only then will they get their white/cheque parts back. Maybe. That is the message out on the streets.
But this is the new aware North. People don't take such things lying down, as they do, apparently, in Mumbai, where lately nobody has had the guts to stand up for too long against the real estate industry. Here, in Delhi, within days, the prospective customers organize themselves, get on the streets, get into the media, and rapidly form something called, Noida Extension Flat Buyers Welfare Association (NEFBWA). Complete with website (http://nefbwa.com/), bye-laws, and steps to get registered. Led by heavy hitters from all segments of society, especially retired civil servants, and a very well designed advertisement in the national dailies, as well as what looks like the beginning of a well-mobilised PR campaign. Ready to take on what threatens to spiral into a huge issue, given the political sensitivities as well as the ramifications of the Supreme Court judgement on other projects in the area.
I spoke with some of the people involved, who at this juncture choose to not provide their identities because they are busy setting up the association and are still looking at their first general body meeting; but all the same, they are going where nobody else has been before. Especially in Maharashtra, which is, apparently, littered with the debris of building projects which have simply ceased or vanished midway.
Certainly, we have a few like this in the North too. Skipper in the middle of Connaught Place is probably the worst example. On the crossing of Tolstoy and Barakhamba stands a ghostly monument to a builder's tricks. But by and large, Delhi as well as the surrounding NCR areas of Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad, have been spared this sort of projects being abandoned half-way.
Some of the steps that this Association proposes to take are indeed very interesting. Apart from legal interventions, of course, there is talk that they might:
# Take the celebrities, who endorsed the projects, into the controversy. This, apparently, includes a few national level cricketers as well as actors. ?Section 68 of the Companies Act, 1956, provides for punishment of any person fraudulently inducing another to invest money through a false or misleading statement made either knowingly or recklessly, and can be used here.
# Look at a co-operative scheme with the farmers directly, along what is increasingly being referred to as the "Magarpatta Model", where the landowners remain stake-holders in larger projects which include mixed habitat, commercial and residential spaces.
# Seek central government intervention in what is essentially a state subject. How they will do this is not clear, but apparently there are ways, especially when fiduciary issues of the black/white sort are involved. And there is a Supreme Court judgment on the issue, still being analysed, but with all-India implications.
Every which way, it does appear as though the people caught in the middle, the long-suffering middle class, are getting together to give the existing inertia levels, as well as their Bombay pattern real estate mafiosi, a good fight.
The fact that it is the internet which is enabling this is not going unnoticed either. Maybe there is a lesson in this for people elsewhere in the country, too, where real estate scams are increasingly not unknown. A good suggestion would be for people in other parts of the country who have suffered along similar lines to get in touch with the NEFBWA too.
And maybe, just maybe, this might put an end to the relentless cycle of blood-letting and violence, bombs and deaths, which are blamed on everything but the truth-the cost of real estate in and around Mumbai.
Explosions happened at about 7pm; not known immediately who may be responsible
At least three blasts occurred in separate parts of Mumbai late this evening injuring scores of people, according to information available. Some deaths were also reported in the explosions that happened at around 7pm.
Very little was known immediately about the explosions that went off in the generally busy Dadar area in central Mumbai, and Zaveri Bazar and Opera House in south Mumbai. Police said it was too early to say anything specific about how the blasts happened or who may be responsible.
The incident brought back memories of the serial train bombings five years ago that killed over 200 people and wounded 700 more. The seven blasts that went off within a few minutes on the suburban Western Railway, on 11 July 2006, were carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Students Islamic Movement of India.
In November 2008, in a coordinated terror attack in South Mumbai, about 160 people were killed and 300 injured at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (the main railway terminal), Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, Oberoi Trident hotel, Cama Hospital and Nariman House (a Jewish community centre).
Zaveri Bazar, a busy business area of the city, has previously suffered two explosions that killed about 50 people.
Things—as far as governance is concerned—cannot be worse in Delhi. It’s time to start asking questions now. The only way to fix things in the near future is to start asking questions now
When times are tough, the one-liners become even better, something I have seen in the old USSR and recently in Pakistan. These seldom, if ever, get picked up by the mainstream media. The two doing the selective rounds in Delhi in the context of the recent Cabinet reshuffle at the Centre are:
1) If you want to feel happy about the Prime Minister, just look at the President.
2) Premier President (a car) was designed in Italy. (It was known as the FIAT 1100.)
The simple question here, then, that needs an answer is this, "Are times bad in India?" The answer is simple: The times are terrible, especially in and around Delhi, where what looks like a total lack of governance is enhanced by a loot-as-much-as-you-can attitude. The recent Cabinet reshuffle, for example, is, in this writer's opinion, like re-arranging the soap dish and hand towels in a toilet which continues to remain as dirty and unsanitary as before.
But does that mean all of us sit back, fold our hands, and bemoan matters? Or can we do something?
The answer is a resounding YES; you and I can and should do something. Especially if we are educated and have access to the internet and have a basic minimal understanding of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Let me give a few examples of how it has, and can change, especially in the context of Moneylife and articles already published here.
1) The most famous episode, of course, has to do with how the RTI Act motivated and moved the search into the Commonwealth Games/Indian Olympics Association and telecom scams. It is not as though everybody involved in these two now well-documented episodes was corrupt. I know of officials who worked there who would even bring their own drinking water as well as coffee from home in their own flasks, travel by their own vehicles, and put their dissent in writing wherever it was required.
Some of us started asking questions as long ago as in 2005-2006, on issues here, and got the run around. Applications were not acknowledged. When they were finally "accepted", they were pushed around, and then all sorts of tricks were used to avoid answering them. However, the fact remains, at each point of correspondence, they (a) left a paper trail and (b) more interestingly, reached some person or the other who would quietly provide leads and information to take matters further.
Yes, it took 5-6 years, and it will take another long time to meander through the justice system, but so be it. At least it works.
2) A few months ago Moneylife carried some articles that I had written on what is increasingly being referred to as "Formula None", on the basis of some inputs I had received and enquiries I had made as a motoring enthusiast, and also as somebody who drives past the site frequently. These grew into full-fledged RTI enquiries with a variety of public authorities, and just around the same time, the Supreme Court judgment on land acquisition opened a Pandora's box of real estate scams nationally.
One of these RTI queries on the status of the national federation pertaining to motorsports, which claims on its website to be the official federation and recognised by the government as well as the Indian Olympics Association, received an amazing response from the ministry; the relevant part goes like this: "Although, Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) is recognised National Sports Federation, but it has not been granted annual recognition for 2010 and 2011".
While some babu in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports will probably be under the impression that he has squeezed out of a particularly troublesome RTI application with this double-speak nonsensical kind of response, the fact remains that this response is now engraved in stone, and will come back to demand due diligence every time even a single paisa of public funds are spent or subsidised on anything to do with the FMSCI. Which, in the very near future, means this Formula None race.
3) Basic corruption on the ground is something everybody complains about. And then, when it impacts us, we choose to keep quiet. So, ladies and feminists will talk about streets being unsafe for them, and then ride around without helmets, while the casualty wards of our hospitals fill up with head injury cases, especially during the monsoon. Cricketers and actors will talk about eradicating corruption, and then go right ahead and endorse products which we know are bad for our health.
A series of RTI applications, addressed to the relevant ministries, enquiring about the liability that a person endorsing a product carries, for example, will soon bring some form of sense and order here. No ministry will like to answer that the endorser has nil liability; that power they won't want to lose. So, by default, some liability will accrue on the person endorsing the product or the service. And that will kill multiple forms of corruption at its root.
An example is the real estate scam in Greater Noida Extension, where some projects were endorsed by national level cricketers, and who are now being sought out by people who booked properties there on the basis of those very advetisements. The matter is all the more complicated because a Supreme Court judgment is also involved, and is bound to see some interesting results, soon. It will be a test case, since the Supreme Court is taking all aspects into consideration, and that does not exempt endorsements.
In short, while my colleague Vinita Deshmukh has been doing sterling service writing on the subject here, it is time that more of us also started working on what can best be called 'Larger Interest RTIs'.
Go for it. Things-as far as governance is concerned-cannot be worse in Delhi. Believe me, I live here, and matters are pathetic. The only way to fix things in the near future is to start asking questions now. So that people in governance get worried about cleaning things now.