Wednesday, 6 July, 2022
HomeNational InterestAs bulldozers target the poor again, let’s also remember Delhi's ‘Republic of...

As bulldozers target the poor again, let’s also remember Delhi’s ‘Republic of Sainik Farms’

Sainik Farms in Delhi was once a vast green lung. It was first discovered by an army of retired generals, and later, a whole panoply of the capital’s smash-and-grabbers.

Text Size:

Bulldozers and demolitions are in the headlines following the North Delhi Municipal Corporation’s high handed and selective targeting of mostly Muslim-owned properties in the capital’s Jahangirpuri after the Hanuman Jayanti rioting. The defence is, they are only demolishing encroachment and unauthorised constructions.

Now we have K.J. Alphons, former civil servant, a former BJP Union minister and reputed to have been the capital’s demolition man when he served as commissioner (lands) of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) between 1992 and 1995, speaking with our Political Editor D.K. Singh and Senior Associate Editor Neelam Pandey on how demolitions are only effective if the elite offenders are targeted first. In his tenure, he says, he demolished no more than one solitary slum.

Which brings back to me this National Interest piece I had written in 1999, at one of those junctures where the judiciary was taking notice of encroachments. It was then published in The Indian Express with the headline ‘Republic of Sainik Farms’.

It becomes relevant again now as those at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid are targeted and the rich and powerful carry on with old impunity.

It isn’t my favourite destination, but the closest ‘foreign country’ a Delhiite can visit is on the outskirts of their city. Call it, for convenience, the Republic of Sainik Farms.

Once a vast green lung, it was first discovered by an army of retired generals — hence the name — and later a whole panoply of the capital’s smash-and-grabbers.

No wonder its mostly unauthorised and illegal Malibu-style mansions boast per capita incomes far higher than that of many developed countries of the world.

It has its own electricity and water supplies, its own security, its own toll road (only ‘foreigners’ like us must pay a charge), it has its own security and it certainly does not recognise the government of India.

It does, however, have with us diplomatic relations of sorts, since a couple of Delhi-based ambassadors have chosen to reside there. Their landlords are twice-blessed: The diplomatic immunity of the tenants gives them added protection.

If Outlook Editor Vinod Mehta is looking for an answer to the question he has raised in his latest issue (Do we need a Government?), he will hear a resounding `no’ in the Republic of Sainik Farms.

But why is a free-marketeer like this columnist complaining? Because here is more evidence that we do need a government. In fact, this is precisely why a free-market, deregulated, prospering economy where the consumer is king needs good governance even more than the licence-quota raj.

There is no way a country, particularly one endowed with so much enterprise as India, can grow without a free-market economy. But the government has to be there, not as the emperor, but as an umpire. The umpire must be strong, impartial, even fearsome with a willingness to strike the moment the rules of the game are violated.

Also read: Broken homes, broken ties: Jahangirpuri reels under double blow of riots & demolition

Ever wondered, why has economic reform been in such bad odour with our middle and upper-middle classes, people with some surplus incomes, and therefore savings? Why did a recent opinion poll show that 70 per cent of our youth favour protectionism?

You can answer that question with a couple of other questions. How do these people look at Harshad Mehta? A product of too much regulation, or too little? Or the phenomenon of hundreds of private companies that sprang up overnight during the primary market boom of 1993-94, collected more than Rs 10,000 crore from pensioners and wage earners in Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), and then vanished?

If thuggery of this kind is what they get with the so-called deregulation, weren’t they better off in the old, mai-baap sarkar days with the babus in Udyog Bhavan sitting on licences and the Controller of Capital Issues assessing share offerings?

It is dangerous to confuse deregulation with non-governance. No free market can survive without a good government and good, strong laws. Today, we celebrate the conviction of Harshad Mehta in just one case, more than seven years after he single-handedly devastated our capital markets and pauperised many of us or our pensioner parents. Meanwhile, Nick Leeson of the Barings Bank scandal in Singapore has already served his jail sentence and gone into oblivion.

The Americans take their Securities and Exchange Commission (equivalent of our SEBI), their monopoly and anti-trust laws and their consumer rights so seriously that they routinely keep fining and jailing the violators.

Two reporters of The Wall Street Journal, in a famous case, were jailed for 18 years for the crime (!) of trading in the shares they were writing about. If you applied the same laws in India, Tihar would be listed in the Guinness Book as the largest residential press club in the world.

A free market needs laws even more than a state-run economy. The laws must be good and fair, deregulatory in essence, and then must be monitored and enforced by a government. If the market by itself were the guarantor of accountability, the most successful free economies wouldn’t have such strong regulatory mechanisms.

The market, the laws and the government together bring accountability. Our ministers, finance secretaries, CBI chiefs and even SEBI chieftains complain of how difficult it is to trace and punish the promoters of the companies that vanished with our money.

The simple question is: Why not catch the executives in charge of the appraising agencies at that time, run by the topmost banks and institutions in the country, whose certificates were flaunted so proudly by the promoters? You and I were suckered because we thought these issues were appraised by respectable institutions. The ends of justice, or de-regulation, are not met if they go scot-free.

The ongoing tamasha in the telecom sector is a good example of how we have confused deregulation with no regulation. The services are better, phenomenally cheaper and it is tempting to credit all this to privatisation. But spare a thought for the role played in all this by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), hated equally by the old MTNL and DoT, or the private operators. They keep reducing the tariffs and generally blowing the whistle. Nobody loves the umpires. But you can’t play the game without them.

Also read: Under BJP, Muslims are becoming new ‘bottom’ of society. It’s a message for Dalits, OBCs

The whether-we-need-a-government-or-not debate is caught in the old Indian timewarp where we get so obsessed with the means we forget the end. We get so caught up in election campaigns, turnouts, rigging and results that we forget what this is all supposed to lead to: Governance.

In every election we ask the voters the same questions and get the same answers: Politicians are crooks, useless, they give us nothing, we are worse off than before. So why vote?

Nothing changes except that with each election, with each new government we get more cynical. The itch to secede, to declare ourselves sovereign, independent, even if not very mobile republics, increases. So we think the solution, since we can’t elect a good government, is to have no government at all and leave it all to the market.

I remember a conversation with Manmohan Singh on board an Indian Airlines flight many years ago, when he was finance minister. He was sounding low on the economy, and generally the state of the nation. “We have no future,” he said, “unless we can persuade our people to pay reasonable tariffs for the services the state is supposed to offer them — power, water, roads, education and so on.”

But how can we be persuaded to do so by governments that allow others to loot free power, travel without tickets and generally chuck the rule book out of the window and build, right under our very noses, illegal monstrosities like Sainik Farms while sundry municipal officials harass us for house tax and demolish our allegedly oversized balconies in perfectly legal colonies?

Yes, we do need a government. But the government has to redefine itself as we deregulate and privatise. If it insists on clinging to the nostalgic huzoor-mai-baap provider syndrome, we already know what to do: Secede, and build our own Sainik Farms.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular