Sunday, 27 September 2020

Discretionary Quotas of Plots Reprehensible Loot

Updated: February 11, 2015 12:52 pm

How long will this nation tolerate open dacoity of poor people by none other than babus, journalists, leaders and other influential people? What is most shocking is that even some judges are not immune from it and have been an inalienable part of it. I am talking about the discretionary quota which more often than not has been lavishly misused to favour the rich elite who didn’t deserve it and for whom it was not meant. This open loot has been going on since its inception, which is the most shameful and merits bare scrutiny of each and every allotment.

What an irony that among those who culled benefits from the Bhubaneshwar Development Authority (BDA) and Cuttack Development Authority (CDA) chairmen’s discretionary quotas in land and plot allotments were 10 judges, all of whom were sitting judges at the time, and family members of at least two others. They all cornered allotments under the discretionary quota of Odisha Urban Development Minister. They were meant for poor, distressed and needy people, absolutely not for judges or the rich elite. This is just not done and the guilty deserve the toughest punishment available under our legal system.

Finally, these were two houses allotted under the discretionary quota of one minister to the family of another that led Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to intervene and scrap the system of patronage, which started in 1985, in December 2011. But one is distressed to read in various newspapers that as Assembly records show, among those to have benefited over the past 26 years from the quota which was basically meant to help persons in distress are not only politicians and senior officers but also high court judges and more than 30 senior journalists. It would be pertinent to mention here that between 1985 and 2009, the Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) gave away plots and core houses to 832 people under the discretionary quota available with the Urban Development Minister.

It is noteworthy that the government revealed the same in a query over the quota in the Odisha Assembly on December 9. It followed a TV channel report about Odisha Law Minister Bikram Keshari Arukh getting a 2,400 square feet duplex house under the discretionary quota in 2009 when Badri Narayan Patra was the Urban Development Minister. Two years earlier, his wife Jayalaxmi Arukh had secured a similar house under a separate BDA scheme, a separate Urban Development Minister (KV Singh Deo) under the same quota. The TV report disclosed that Arukh had applied for the second house claiming through an affidavit that he did not have any land or house in Bhubaneswar. Had this not been revealed by the alert media, this open loot would still have been continuing.

The Odisha Development Authorities Act, 1982, enacts no provision for the BDA and CDA for discretionary allotments by the Executive. But the much-abused discretionary quota scheme was launched way back in 1985 under the then Congress Chief Minister JB Patnaik’s regime notwithstanding the absence of such provisions in the Act and perpetuated by successive ministers. Those who were declared eligible to derive benefit from it included: “The dependant of a person who has made a supreme sacrifice for the nation, but has not been properly rehabilitated so far; members of a family which has been a victim of unforeseen circumstances (terrorist attack, earthquake, flood etc); physically handicapped persons; defence/paramilitary/police personnel/other central/state government employees who are permanently disabled on duty; immediate next of kin, namely widow, parents, children of those who lost their lives in abnormal circumstances; eminent professionals, outstanding sportsmen, artists, literary persons and women of high achievement in distress; and individual cases of extreme hardship, which in the opinion of the government are extremely compassionate and deserve sympathetic consideration in view of special circumstances of the cases.” The gnawing question which arises here is: are they actually given to those for whom they are meant? Certainly not and it is only a tiny fraction of those who really deserve and who rarely get what is their right. This is most shameful.

In the last twenty six years, among those who benefited include high court judges, politicians, IAS/IPS officers, district collectors, bank managers, income tax officials, journalists of vernacular newspapers as well as correspondents and editors of prominent English dailies. Apart from them, many others acquired plots/houses in the names of spouse or relatives. Some journalists got more than one plot even though the standard procedure is that if a person has benefited through one scheme, he wouldn’t receive a plot under another. In one year alone, between 1996 and 1997, the then Urban Development Minister Amarnath Pradhan of the Congress gave out 439 plots and houses under the quota.

A thorough investigation must be conducted in all such states where plots/houses were allotted under discretionary quota and action must be taken against all those who wrongly allotted or received land/houses under discretionary quota. We all know how houses in the Adarsh Housing scam meant for Kargil martyrs were allotted to senior bureaucrats, services chief and relatives of politicians with even the then CM Ashok Chavan who had to resign ultimately. This must end now.

By Sanjeev Sirohi

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