From judges to journalists, from ministers to political workers, everyone with access to the powers that be, have benefited from this discretion.
The BJP MP from Mathura, Hema Malini, was reportedly allotted a plot in Mumbai for peanuts: Rs 70,000, that is seventy thousand rupees, lest I am presumed to have got a few zeroes less by mistake. The lawmaker has since corrected the report, claiming in anguish that she had applied to the Maharashtra government for land for a dance school over 20 years ago, and paid Rs 10 lakh in 1997, and would pay whatever the government charges.
Governments have a lot of discretion. One of them is to allot land or sanction plots or apartments, or even industrial lots of sheds on out-of-turn basis. Allotment, by itself, may cause a lot of heartburn among others who would have wanted to own a piece of land, but had to participate in a draw of lots and wait endlessly, praying they get lucky. Add to it some more rancour because the land that government can give using its discretion to favour someone, is generally prime property. The public disgust at such giving and taking is, above all, because it is at a throwaway price!
Hema Malini may eventually pay a crore or more. But let none of us be in doubt. The land would still be worth many times—possibly 100 times—more than what she is billed. That is the reality of land allotment by government.
Discretion being discretion, no minister need state why he is allotting it to a particular person, under law. But good sense, ethics and morality suggest that these be allotted to, say, a disabled war hero or a war widow or a woman whose social work merits the grant. It is using this kind of discretion that governments give plots to local boys and girls who are winners of international sporting events. In most schemes involving residential use, governments, through their housing boards and development authorities, tend to keep 5 per cent or so, for such categories of people. Nobody really grudges them that.
For institutions, including schools and colleges in the private sector, the local governments generally float schemes and invite applications—they should have been in existence for years, have students to show, funds for it. If there are more applicants than plots, they, too, are subjected to a draw of lots, and often, those who don't make it, are kept in a waiting list, to be adjusted when the next scheme comes up.
But there is hardly any example of this discretion not having been misused. From judges to journalists, from ministers to political workers, everyone with access to the powers that be, have benefited from this discretion. Saw a former minister's old driver in that list? Don't think of it as the minister's largesse that resulted in the poor driver getting a roof over his head. It most probably is benami—held in the name of someone else or a fictitious name.
The Benami Transaction Act of 1988 prohibited such transactions and provided for confiscation of benami properties, but could often not zero in on the culprit. The Modi government intended to chase the money trail and zero in on the person who actually paid for the property, by introducing an amendment bill, in the Lok Sabha, May last.
But like many Modi intentions, it has remained just that: an intention.