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Fadnavis Government Playing With Fire

Monday, May 04, 2015
By Deepak Sahijwala

Allegations that the “BJP government is pro-rich’ might just be proven right, if the state government’s move to amend the Maharashtra Rent Control Act (1999) is  tinkered with  to enrich landlords by allowing them to charge astronomically higher monthly rents from lakhs of tenants. The Economic Times on Friday reported that the ‘Payout may shoot up from Rs. 200 to Rs. 2 lakh under the proposed amendment to the Rent Act’.

And brazenly, this bizarre and provocative misadventure of the government is being justified. Top government officials quoted by the ET say that “the proposed amendments could help increase housing stock and give owners money to develop or refurbish their old buildings.” These ridiculous assessments, along with a few caveats that may come in, are anticipated to hopefully fool the public.

Perhaps Fadnavis does not know the ground reality; or is he playing ignorant while succumbing to the pressures of the city’s powerful landlord lobbies?

Mr. Fadnavis, what have landlords done for their tenants, except collect heavy amounts during transfer of tenancy? If they had been maintaining their properties, even at the basics, Mumbai would not have the most number of dilapidated properties that it now boasts of.

There have been many cases in the city where landlords have used strong arm tactics and legal harassment to forcefully evict tenants after offering measly compensations, including those who had been occupying their homes for decades. In almost all cases of old buildings, maintenance has been carried out by the tenants themselves, most of who would have spent, tens of times the amount the landlord must have paid for the property.

While Maharashtra’s governments in the past have been wooing votes through promising tenants ownership rights over the properties they occupy, their unkept promises were balanced by ensuring that rent rates were hardly tinkered with.

But this government, notwithstanding the political consequences, is being brave by putting aside the interest of the majority to enrich a minority, but powerful and influential section. I would be curious to know of the number of buildings the party’s leaders own as landlords or of  those who have acquired old buildings and turned landlords in the city in the past few years.

Would the government have any statistics to reveal the change in land ownerships of old buildings in the last few decades? Would it have any statistics of tenancy transfers through the Pagdi route and what portion of those monies would have accrued to landlords in just Mumbai alone? The government must do its homework on this.

Guesstimates would put the number of land lordships changing hands at over 50% and a higher amount in change of tenancy in Mumbai. That means, most of the new tenants would have paid near market rates through the ‘Pagdi’ route. These ground level realities are being ignored.

Then there are serious concerns as to how the underworld is strengthening its grip on Mumbai's real estate. The state government's intelligence units are sufficiently efficient and could provide the government with information, if it so desires, as to how the underworld is openly buying or grabbing real estate, sometimes even evicting tenants forcefully across many areas of the city. Through this amendment and similar concessions, the government itself would further financially empower criminals, setting dangerous precedents.

But instead of taking the forward looking route and ensuring justice through amendments to convert tenancies into ownerships, the government deems it fit to be retrograde. It must do a rethink; else it will only find its public and itself mired in legal battles, and perhaps civil unrest.

Without mincing words, one should get to the point. If this government pushes through these amendments, than one must assume that this is not the common man’s government. In response all the common man can do is: Boot the government out at the next elections.

After all, if this government insists on playing with fire, than that would be the only befitting reply the public can give...

Without mincing words, one should get to the point. If this government pushes through landlord biased amendments to the Maharashtra Rent Control Act (1999) at the cost of lakhs of ordinary citizens, than one must assume that this is not the common man’s government. In response all the common man can do is: Boot the government out at the next elections

Sahijwala is Business Editor and can be contacted at [email protected]

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