Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, the BJP government in Maharashtra has proposed the allotment of prime land in suburban Mumbai for a proposed high-rise for a housing society for journalists. Also, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced that 50 per cent of the homes in this high-rise will be reserved for those covering state affairs and politics.
Records show that the government planned the exclusive housing scheme for journalists on a parcel of size 33,417 sq ft in Kandivali following a request by the Chief Promoter of a proposed journalists’ housing society now enrolled as Navodaya Patrakar CHS Ltd.
Ironically, the land parcel in question is earmarked for mass public housing — a Mumbai Metro rail route is coming up nearby.
Confirming his move, Fadnavis said: “For the past several years, journalists haven’t been allotted any space in Mumbai and most of them can’t afford to purchase homes at market rates. There was a constant demand from members of the electronic and print media for the same.”
The state’s decision is to offer Mumbai public land will go to journalists, courtesy state govt over 250 homes on ownership basis for journalists.
The state-run Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) will implement the scheme.
To enable this, the state has invoked regulation 13 (2) of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development (Estate Managements, Sale, Transfer and Exchange of Tenements), Act, 1981, a contentious provision that was last used by the Fadnavis government in August, 2015, for sanctioning a high-income group housing scheme for sitting Bombay High Court (HC) judges on another 32,300 square feet public housing plot in Oshiwara.
In 2017, The Indian Express had first published a series of reports over the allotment for the high-rise for judges and controversies related to it. Basically, the regulation permits MHADA to build homes for a “specific category of persons with the government’s prior approval.”
Earlier, in 2008, the then Congress-led government had used the provision to sanction a high-rise for bureaucrats in Kalina, which continues to be mired in controversy.
Incidentally, it was only on October 8, 2007, months before the housing scheme for the bureaucrats was sanctioned, that the government had defined the “category of persons” for whom special housing schemes could be formulated. These include sitting judges, serving or retired legislators and parliamentarians, journalists, and bureaucrats.
In the past, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has raised serious objections, questioning the rationale of “reserving plots and homes meant to promote affordable housing in the general pool” for a specific category of persons.
But defending his government’s move, Fadnavis said, “The High Court has upheld the provision. In the past too, societies comprising MLAs and judges have been offered homes under it.” He added, “There was the Chief Minister’s (discretionary) quota earlier where flats were offered to various category of persons, but the Court has stayed it.”
On the upcoming high-rise for journalists, a senior bureaucrat, requesting anonymity, said, “The state’s revenue department owns the land. It has already submitted a proposal for transferring it to Mhada on occupancy rights basis at a nominal cost. This is being done as a special case.”
On October 10, 2018, following a meeting betweeen the CM and office bearers of the proposed society of journalists, the suburban Collector’s office submitted a proposal in this regard.
On January 23 this year, the state’s housing department modified the provision for the category of journalists, inducting a rider that for “future special housing schemes (for journalists), there would be a 50 per cent reservation for all those who cover Mantralaya affairs and the state legislature on a regular basis.” Sources said that this was essentially done to “facilitate the reservation of homes in the proposed high rise.”
Fadnavis said, “Representatives of the Mantralaya and Vidhimandal Vartahar Sangh (MVVS), a body of journalists, had conveyed that the definition used for a journalist (under the provision) was so broad and universal that the probability of them getting accomodation under the scheme was less unless homes were reserved for them. They also represented that they are the ones who live and work in Mumbai. The government, after consultation, accepted this demand.”
Said Dilip Sapate, Chief Promoter of the journalists’ society: “The scheme being proposed will be open for all journalists. We have ourselves demanded that the allotment should take place in a transparent manner and all those who have already been allotted a house under some government quota anywhere in the past in the state shouldn’t be allowed to apply.”
Told that MHADA’s universal mass housing schemes already have a reservation for journalists, Sapate said, “Less than 40 houses are allotted under the category annually.”
Fadnavis said, “All of us talk expect transparency from the fourth pillar of democracy. To encourage it, we must also ensure there is enough social security for them.” Fadnavis has also announced plans to launch a pension scheme for senior journalists.