SHRI MOHAN SINGH : How can you do that?
SHRI RAM JETHMALANI: Now let us go into the question of `how'? We will go into the question of `how'. But before that, let us clear up at least one fog in our mind and that fog in the mind is that at least with the presence of the Act, the poor were never served. Now, we will see why they were not served and we will decide here and now how we should serve them in future. But at least one thing is quite clear that after 26 years of the prevalence of this statute, the poor remained poor and only the rich profited. I want all Members of this House and particularly my venerable friend, Shri Radhakrishnan to realise the implications of what he said. The implications of what he had said in the House is that the law was meant for purpose (a); that purpose (a) was not fulfilled and a directly contrary purpose was fulfilled. I leave it to the imagination of the Members of this House. Why did this statute get derailed from the noble purposes which were supposed to prompt it into evil purposes which are anti-poor? The only answer is that the statute, however good and laudable in its original intentions, was corruptly used, was corruptly exploited and it was used in a manner of hurting the poor and only to satisfy and to fill up the pockets of a few selected rich who could pay the monies under the table and earn their exemptions from the provisions of that statute. I wish to erase this and this Government is determined to put an end to this sorry state of affairs. We will first remove all opportunities for corruption. So long as this statute remains, copious opportunities for corruption that this Act provided will continue to exist.
Madam, I mean no disrespect to anybody. Some of the Members here probably have perceptions which I do not share, but we are all humans. Sometimes I go wrong; sometimes others go wrong. I have nothing against anybody. But I am prepared to say this out of my experience - I have been a member of the Bar for the last 50 years - that this Act was more corruptly used than any other statute, including the Penal Code, including the Prevention of Corruption Act, including the Customs Act and the Excise Act. No other statute has been so used for corrupt purposes, to fill in the pockets of a totally small band, but a band which was out to grab as much property. Thousands of crores of rupees have gone under the table as a result of this statute and we want to put an end to it.
Madam, my friend, Shri Mohan Singh also spoke on that occasion and I have read the whole of his speech. The hon. Member said everything which is sensible. I am quite sure that he will not go back on whatever he had said on that occasion. He described the state of affairs which I have seen with my own eyes. The hon. Member, Shri Mohan Singh narrated about his experience of the slums in Mumbai and said that naked women are sitting on the railway tracks, on the roadsides, unable to hide their shame, unable to get water, unable to clean themselves? Why? Why has this happened? Why have slums grown? Why have our people been forced into the slums, into that life against which even beast will protest? They have been put there because the laws of the market were interfered with, the land was pocketed by the corrupt rich, the corrupt
bureaucrats and the corrupt persons who were in a position to grant exemptions under this statute and the poor remained where they were.
Madam, I would request the hon. Member to kindly see the purpose of this great statute on which he is singing praises. In the Union Territory of Delhi, the public of Delhi were told that 345 hectares of land is vacant, that land will come in the hands of the Government and the Government will solve the problems of every poor man living in this city, either on the pavement or in the slum and everybody will get a house. That was the proclaimed intention. Out of 345 hectares of land, does anybody in this House know how much land was actually acquired by the Government? It was 345 hectares on one side and 1.9 hectare on the other.
Is it not ridiculous performance? Does it not show the absurdity of the statute? Does it now show that nobody was serious about enforcing the statute except to make money for himself or herself? That is precisely the state of affairs which must end. What happened to the price? What happened as a result of this statute? You do not have to go to Harvard to learn your economics. You do not have to be a great economist to realise that the volume of corruption must ultimately be added to the price of commodities. Thousands of crores of rupees, which were made by the corrupt, ultimately found a reflection in the price of land. The price of land rocketed to the skies. There were flats and apartments which were built for the rich people. The price of land was so high that even the rich could not afford to buy them because by that time the rich themselves had become slightly poor. And their affording capacity and their spending capacity had gone.
Forty thousand beautiful apartments constructed in the city of Pune are lying vacant because not even the rich can afford them at the prices at which they were built. This is the great result of this statute.
Ultimately, I am not an economist. But I know a good bit of economists. I do not say that I know more economics than them. But one thing is certain that economists were agreed upon economic conclusions. As has often been said that if you put the world's economists from end to end, they will never reach a conclusion. Therefore, I am entitled to think of my common sense and not go by economic theories. My common sense tells me that that this land be released from litigation, and this land be released from the hands of corrupt lawyers, who have made for themselves millions of rupees in supporting the claims of the people and tying up this land in litigation.
I have talked to the Members of Parliament in Andhra Pradesh. I have been told that twice the amount of price of land, which the Government has been able to take possession of, has been spent by the Government on paying its lawyers to defend the litigation about this land. This litigation is all prevalent. It is pending in every part of India. It is pending in every High Court.
SHRI NADENDLA BHASKARA RAO (KHAMMAM): Under the Urban Land Ceiling Act, we spent about Rs. 250 crore just to have 200 acres.
SHRI RAM JETHMALANI: He is my prosecution witness number one. This is the state of affairs. It is a fact. But I know what is happening in Maharashtra. I know what is happening in other States. The corrupt have made money. The pettifogging lawyers have made money. The poor are where they were and that is the unanimous verdict of even those who are today signatories to the Resolution for disapproval. ... (Interruptions)
I am never tired of stating this publicly that I was a successful lawyer. I have made money at the Bar. But I have made money not from the poor but from the rich. Ninety per cent of my practice has always been free practice as some Members of this House will be able to certify.
SHRI NADENDLA BHASKARA RAO : Including Urban Land Ceiling cases.
SHRI RAM JETHMALANI: No urban land; now I will not. That will require defending a Minister.
My friend said: "Why do you not talk of the bigger States?" Tamil Nadu is a very big State. We have a party from Tamil Nadu which is one of our great allies. But Tamil Nadu has its own law. They are not governed by the Central legislation and the repeal will not affect Tamil Nadu.
My friends from West Bengal are so vociferous in their opposition. We talked to West Bengal. What did they tell us? They told us, "You can go and repeal by all means. But we are free to pass our own law."
SHRI BASU DEB ACHARIA: Yes.
SHRI RAM JETHMALANI: Now, who says that you are not free to pass your own law. By all means, you pass your law. You stick to your economic theories. You stick to your old methods of doing things. But I must tell you, in fairness, that in spite of the law, some of the excellent things which are now happening in West Bengal after I have taken over and after the new policy was announced, are remarkable.
We talked of the partnership between the private sector, the financial institutions, and the Government. I must compliment the Government of West Bengal that in the partnership venture, about twenty minutes' drive from the city of Calcutta, they had built houses because the price of land is totally subsidised. I had gone and saw those houses. That is a pride of place to watch. The structure cost of those houses is only about Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 60,000. An excellent one bed room apartment with a living room, a bathroom, and everything inside is being sold today at about Rs. 1,30,000. I had seen that. But I wish to assure this whole House that once the construction activity starts in a big way, as I hope it will, not only the whole economy will revive but the cost of construction of an apartment will reduce itself to Rs. 30,000. Therefore, you leave out the land component in Rs. 30,000, you will have an apartment ready for a poor person, a poor person who is prepared to spend a lakh of rupees for getting a hut in a slum where the charges are much more. So, that will be the result of this legislation once the land and land stock is free. Hon. Shri Mohan Singh has asked `how'? I want to tell the hon. Members that the simple economics is that when land gets into the free market, and the land stock becomes available, the prices will fall. The prices skyrocketed because they were in the clutches of the monopolistic hands of the corrupt Governments and bureaucrats. As soon as they are released from their clutches, the land stock will improve and the houses will be made available at affordable prices. It is because the cost of construction is not much, it is only the land component which is much more.
Madam, I do wish to claim and nobody in this House will be able to deny this that ever since I had started talking about the repeal of the Act, the price of land has started falling. Today, if you go to the satellite towns in Maharashtra, like Thane or Boriville or other places, the price of land has already falling by 40 per cent.
Now, let me come to other parts. Madam, I have said Tamil Nadu has its own Bill. As far as West Bengal is concerned, they have said that so long as the freedom remains, you do what you like at the Centre. I had explained to Bihar that if they want that Act, and if they are in love with it, it will remain with them. Let them please keep it as long as they want. The other States had asked for copious amendments. We are not in a position to enact those copious amendments because we require the concurrence of all the States. Some States do not want those amendments. They want a plain repeal. If two or more States want the repeal, we are constitutionally bound to give it to them. That is my understanding of the constitutional spirit.
Madam, it is not as if this Government had taken a new decision. Earlier Governments were all confronted with the ills which this Act had produced. But I regret to say that they did not have the moral courage to repeal this Act. But let me again say that hon. Shri Gujral, when he was the Prime Minister, during the short term of his office considered this and his Cabinet had actually, in November, 1997 okayed the decision to repeal this by an Ordinance. But somehow realising that they were probably on their way out, considering the political instability which we all have to take into account everyday, they could not do it. After all if I am likely to be replaced tomorrow, why should I do like this? But in substance, I will remove this even if I have to go tomorrow. In substance, the policy and the contents of this statute were considered by three previous Governments and all of them were not in a position to defend the continuance of this Act. They had all decided that it should be repealed. But somehow, for reasons beyond their control, including the fact that they probably thought that there will be opposition from some of their own allies, they could not do it. Again we had taken into account the politics.
So, we are really, Madam, enforcing the decision of the previous Governments.
I talked of the mindboggling failure of the Act. I have given you illustrations, but with me figures are available of every State. In every State, thousands of acres of hectares of land were declared but nothing was got at. What we did was that when we introduced the original measures here before this House, I had provided in that Bill that all those properties which have vested in the Government even though the Government has taken the possession of those properties, if the construction activity has not actually started on those pieces of land, those land must revert back to the original proprietors; of course, on refund of compensation and so on.
The Standing Committee to which this Bill was referred to, ultimately gave its final report only in the end of December 1998. That report came just before Christmas Holidays and that brought us into 1999 when the report came. The report merely suggested one change and that change was, "Do not return all land on which no construction activity has taken place, but return all those lands which are tied up in litigations, which have been declared excess but of which the Government has not been able to take possession." So, those lands which are not in the possession of the Government will hereafter not be acquired. That is the amendment which we made. That is why we withdrew the first Bill and introduced amended Bill to carry out the unanimous wishes of the Standing Committee relating to my Department.
Madam, 45 Members, across the board, representing all political parties, have sat and considered this for several months. I think, it was referred some time in June or July and they gave their report only in December, after long and prolonged consideration. Ultimately, the only suggestion they made was, `that repeal it but do not take charge of land of which the Government has physically taken possession.'
I have differences with that view point, but as I have always said that I am a human and I have no monopoly of wisdom, who am I to say that the Standing Committee of 45 Members may not be right; I may be wrong. I have, therefore, very gratefully, very respectfully accepted their advice and I am asking for a repeal, but I am not asking that we continue to retain all those lands on which no construction activity has started. I would have preferred it but those lands will remain.
Madam, between the poor and the middle-class now, who have suffered more. The poor man is at least able to go and construct his own hut in a slum. Some times, he pays price to the slumlord and manages to get some kind of accommodation. It is the middle class, the low income group, the class in the Government office, the poor widow who are not able to get into the slum and pay that price, who are today really left without a shelter, without a roof to call their own. It is not merely women living in the slums, who are found on the Railway track in the early hours of the morning, it is the poor women belonging to the middle income groups, the low income groups, who are living in the houses which are practically as bad as slum houses that they have suffered and it is for the benefit of those people that we are now going to repeal this Statute. Why and how?
The latest policy of the most important financial institution under my control, HUDCO. Today, I am able to tell this august House, I am instituting a new scheme today supposed to be at 5 o'clock. But I do not know how to get to that inauguration function. Today, we have decided that hereafter the HUDCO will give, not merely to cooperative societies and companies, but we shall give to the poorest individual, a clerk, who so long as he has got a salary from which he can pay his instalment, we are prepared to grant loan at cheap rates of interest, where the liability to repay will be spread over 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, if you like. Every poor middle class man will have the opportunity of getting a house. He will be able to get a house because construction activity will start and once the construction activity starts, there will be a glut of housing and that housing shall be available to the poor and the low income groups.
Madam, I have said that we are not experts. Therefore, we should either rely upon our common sense or we rely upon some who call themselves experts. Madam, I have the pleasure of knowing a gentleman who, unfortunately is not a Member of my Party but he is the Member of the Congress Party. He is Mr. Jairam Ramesh, a spokesman of the Congress Party and I believe that he is an economist in his own right and an economist of good repute; and he is an economist who knows his economics very well.
Madam, he wrote a full-blooded article in India Today. It says:
"Never judge the policy by its intent but always assess it by its consequences. Nothing could illustrate more vividly than the Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act of 1976. ..."
According to Mr. Ramesh, this statute is the most conspicuous example of a statute which was declared to be a statue with good intentions but produced nothing; a mountain of good intentions produced a mouse by way of labour. He says:
"The objectives of the Act, as it is usually referred to, were laudable. It was to prevent concentration of urban land and to promote housing for the poor in cities but in actual practice, the Act has reduced the supply of land, inflated land prices, served as a dampener on housing and construction activities and impeded the timely closure of sick companies in places like Mumbai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad and Kanpur in a manner that would protect the interests of labour and generate new economic activity. Clearly the Act is bad law and worst economics."
I would urge upon every Member of this House who accepts the bona fides of this gentleman, according to me a great economist, who is a spokesman of the major Opposition Party to the Government, this is what he has said about the Urban Land Ceiling Act; and I have here a plethora of articles written by economists in the economic newspapers which had all unanimously and universally welcomed the repeal of this statute.
In 1991, I was a Member of the Janata Party and I remember sitting in the Rajya Sabha and the great Mr. Manmohan Singh, the Finance Minister in the Congress Government got up and made a speech. Madam, when I heard his speech, I could not believe my eyes, I could not believe my ears and said: "My God! what am I hearing from a spokesman of the Congress Party, a Finance Minister in the Congress Government, a party which is wedded and has been wedded to the Avadi Resolution and the kind of socialist economics, which we were hearing of for so many years."