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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Maharashtra in free fall

Once one of the better governed and more developed states in the country,Maharashtra’s politicians have,over the years,led the state down an alley of corruption and misgovernance. As the Adarsh scam shows,the rot runs deep

Written by Kavitha Iyer |
November 14, 2010 1:53:07 am

Over the last few weeks,Maharashtra set a new benchmark for the phrase “free-for-all”. What began as yet another scandal involving politicians,bureaucrats and defence officials allegedly violating rules to pocket plush apartments on the most expensive patch of real estate in the country’s most expensive city,went on to open,not a can,but a barrel of worms. Names of almost everyone who was someone in power,or had friends or relatives in positions of authority,seemed to mushroom in connection with allegations that they had resorted to shortcuts to that ultimate Mumbai dream: an apartment.

The allegations triggered even more scandalous counter-allegations and talk of litigation. Government documents,that claimed to be clinching evidence of some or the other kind of wrongdoing,were so freely in circulation that the joke was they were being distributed at the Gateway of India. So much so that days before Prithviraj Chavan took over as the new,“Mr Clean” Chief Minister,there were even documents that sought to establish his omissions in getting an apartment in the financial capital.

The alleged corruption and nepotism in relation to land and housing in Mumbai,however,is seen only as the tip of the iceberg. One which the giant ship called Maharashtra was headed to crash into for years,if not decades. And ironically,it happened in the year the state celebrated 50 years of its formation. Known as one of the better governed and more developed states in the country for at least the first half of this half-a-century,the perception of Maharashtra today is one of a state caught in the vortex of corruption,misgovernance,a lack of probity and accountability in public life,administrative apathy,misplaced priorities and worse.

Figures tell the story

There are statistics to back these ills,with many symbolising the paradox that Maharashtra has become. Much has been written about the woeful infrastructure in the country’s commercial capital or the farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha,but there are other,less-bandied-about facts that indicate the depth of the malaise. Maharashtra,for instance,has the second highest per capita income in the country among major states after Haryana. At Rs 54,867 for 2009-10,it is way above the national average of Rs 37,490. Yet,25 of the 35 districts in the state are below that national average,showing how skewed progress and opportunities have been towards the major urban centres in the state.

That’s not all. According to the state’s 2009-10 economic survey,almost 31 per cent of the population in the state was below the poverty line in 2004-5 against a national average of 27.5 per cent. With 3.17 crore people below the poverty line in 2004-5,it ranked third in the country behind UP and Bihar. This,despite being the richest state in the country with a Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of Rs 6,92,749 crore in 2008-9 and accounting for 13 per cent of national GDP. While Maharashtra attracted a fifth of all the Foreign Direct Investment into India between 1991 and 2007 and saw a commitment of $17 billion being made,again the highest in the country,according to a macroeconomic review by economist S D Naik for the Maharashtra Economic Development Council,it hardly made any investment in the power sector in successive Five-Year Plans and today has a 5,500 MW deficit,with power cuts in rural areas touching 16 hours at its worst.

While 55 per cent of the population continues to depend on farming for a living,the share of agriculture and allied activities in GSDP declined from 22.1 per cent in 1980-81 to 12.1 per cent in 2008-9,Naik says in the MEDC Digest published in May. With the percentage of irrigated land remaining unchanged between 15-17 per cent since 1990-91 compared to the national average of 44 per cent today,according to Naik,it is no surprise that Maharashtra’s food grain productivity is 958 kg per hectare compared to the national average of 1,756 kg.

Again,while its literacy rate of almost 77 per cent is above the national average of 65,its sex ratio was 922 in 2001 against the national average of 933,and is predicted to fall further to 915 in 2011. In another ignominy recorded in 2008,the state topped the country in communal violence with 6,464 cases registered since 2000. And last year,its conviction rate in cases of atrocities against Dalits was a 2.9 per cent,the lowest in the country.

Looking for answers

Although much of the blame for this sorry state of affairs is laid at the door of the political class which has ruled the state,an analysis of why this came to be is a complex story of caste and regional conflicts,urban-rural divides and the quality of leaders produced by the Congress party which has ruled the state for most of its last 50 years. The Marathas,who account for about 35 per cent of the population,have dominated the politics of the state and have held a feudal grip over power from their bastions in western Maharashtra and Marathwada.

Maratha political families,be that of Vilasrao Deshmukh in Latur,S B Chavan-Ashok Chavan in Nanded or Sharad Pawar in Pune/Baramati,have also perpetuated dynastic politics and have not looked at development beyond their family boroughs,says Suhas Palshikar,Professor of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Pune. “There is no development outside their immediate cities because of their short-sightedness,” says Palshikar. “Analysts and the media short-circuit this debate by blaming corruption for most of the problems. But I think it is the lack of a political vision of political families to see beyond their local interests.”

Veteran social activist Anna Hazare,who has been instrumental in initiating legislation such as the RTI Act,agrees with Palshikar. “There is criminalisation of politics and nexus between politicians and land sharks. There is no visionary among politicians. They are selfish and their focus is on minting money by misusing political office and using money to gain political positions. Money and power is the motto,” he says.

The collapse of the co-operative sugar and banking sectors are oft-quoted examples of political interference destroying fine institutions pioneered by Maharashtra. According to official figures,of the 162 co-operative sugar factories in the state,109 were operational last year while 53 were categorised as sick.

Hazare and Congress MP from Mumbai,Milind Deora,also blame the coalition politics of the last decade-and-a-half in the state for its ills but Palshikar and BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Mumbai,Piyush Goyal,are not in complete agreement. With Congress having been in power for the longest in the state,it has to carry the cross for Maharashtra’s fall,although coalition politics may have played its role,they say. “Coalition politics sees unreasonable bargains and compromises being made but to blame it for everything is exaggerating the problem,” says Palshikar. “Economic imbalances started setting in in the late 1970s and 80s,even before the coalition era. Coalitions have contributed to the state falling from its number one position but the rot had already set in.”

The back pages

The rot has had its milestones. The much-criticised nexus between politicians,builders and contractors in Mumbai,for instance,is seen in the development of the city in the early 1970s under then chief minister Vasantrao Naik,who incidentally ruled the state for the longest,from 1963 to 1975. Naik was instrumental in the reclamation of land from the sea in south Mumbai that led to the construction of towers and was then hailed as a visionary move along with the development of Navi Mumbai as a satellite city. But it also opened up new avenues for politicians to extend their influence.

Politicians of the 1970s and 80s also had their share of scandals leading to the culture of revolving door chief ministers. Chief Minister A R Antulay openly doled out cement quotas to those donating funds for an outfit floated by him in the name of Indira Gandhi,leading to his ouster in under two years in 1982. In 1986,chief minister Shivajirao Patil-Nilangekar had to quit when he was found involved in getting his daughter’s MBBS exam marks increased. Even Shiv Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi had to quit after his name figured in a property deal involving his son-in-law while Sharad Pawar has through his career faced allegations of being involved in questionable land deals,the latest being the Lavasa city project.

As political parties were courted by builders,there were shady land deals and the 1990s witnessed three major “mill murders”,all involving mega land deals: industrialist Sunit Khatau,union leader Datta Samant,and mill owner Vallabhai Thakkar,all in 1997. The violence,whether by the Amar Naiks and Arun Gawlis or the still-feared Thakurs of Vasai-Virar,never missed political patronage even as whistle-blowers have been threatened,even killed.

With the political class getting increasingly compromised,the bureaucracy has not remained far behind. Pune-based Madhav Godbole,a former Union Home Secretary,says standards of honesty and efficiency that were hallmarks of administration in Maharashtra don’t exist any longer.

While a report by Godbole on good governance,suggesting the implementation of a good governance index,was tabled in the legislature a few years ago,it was never implemented,he says. Other administrative reforms are urgently needed too. Across the state,ministers have taken charge of implementation of projects—“the meat is in the implementation,” Godbole says—while civil servants are involved in policy matters,a complete contradiction of what the civil services should be doing.

Which is why replacing one Chavan with another to run the state,despite all its promise,has also been received with a fair amount of scepticism. Palshikar and Hazare are unanimous that the challenge before Maharashtra is not the integrity of the one man who heads its government. The political systems they belong to and the administrative machinery they run have to be completely overhauled. And if Prithviraj Chavan even gets past the half-way mark of this marathon,he would have successfully dealt with the crown of thorns he has inherited.

Additional reporting by Rakshit Sonawane

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