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Liquidate Lutyens’ Delhi. Give the immense wealth locked up there back to Covid-hit Indians

How much do Indians pay for the netas and babus who rule over them? A conservative estimate of the land value of Lutyens’ Delhi is around Rs 5 lakh crore.

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The ongoing global pandemic is proving to be the biggest challenge India’s economy has faced in the last few decades. The nation-wide lockdown has temporarily slowed the spread of the disease but it has also brought enormous hardship to the poor, who cannot afford the consequences of the loss of livelihood and the economic downturn it will inevitably lead to.

The poor urgently need assistance to avoid the dire effects of not having an income for several months. The rich have the luxury of dipping into their savings or borrowing; the poor don’t have those options. They have to rely on public assistance, and they need it now, not in some distant future. They need a basic income if they have to survive.

Problems are always unwelcome but sometimes if properly understood, they present rare opportunities for much-needed and necessary changes. The pandemic presents an opportunity for the government of India to do what should have been done right after India became independent of the British Raj over 70 years ago.

The British rulers of India lived lavishly at the expense of Indian taxpayers — and everyone pays taxes. As foreign rulers, they considered it just and proper that they should live like kings while the people of India suffered poverty and deprivation. They lived in Lutyens’ Delhi in style befitting an imperial power ruling over colonial subjects.

With the end of British Raj, the white rulers vacated Lutyens’ Delhi. Those who took over control of the government of independent India — politicians and bureaucrats — moved into those lavish quarters. It is impossible to justify that. How can those who were supposed to serve the public live like they were imperial rulers of a subject people, and extremely poor people at that?

The basic morality and ethics of the governance of a democratic nation entails that the government is for the people, not for the politicians and bureaucrats. They are public servants, who serve at the will of the people. To serve the people, they must not live like kings. And it is not just a matter of optics. It is more than that it doesn’t “look good.” It shields those in government from understanding the daily struggles of the average Indian.

It is time for the Indian netas and babus to stop living in the lap of luxury, like their British predecessors did. It is also time to provide to the poor the financial support that they desperately need now. The pandemic has connected the two issues: to provide the poor the needed financial support, and to halt the waste of public money that goes into funding the extravagant lifestyles of the politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi and elsewhere.

Also read: Dhan Vapasi: A new path that can make Indians prosperous

Lutyens’ Delhi was a symbol of the power and control that the British rulers exercised over the colonized people of India. In 1947, when the government of India changed hands from the British to Indians, Lutyens’ Delhi should have been returned to the people. The functionaries of the government of independent India should have demonstrated their commitment to the cause of nation building by living modestly, as befitting a nation that could not afford to continue to fund the extravagant lifestyles that the British enjoyed at the expense of the poor of India. But they did not do that.

How much do Indians pay for those who rule over them is hard to estimate. Just Lutyens’ Delhi has immense wealth locked up, wealth that could — and must be — given back to Indians. There are hundreds of bungalows sitting on prime lots of more than an acre each. Each bungalow occupies land valued at several hundred crores. A conservative estimate of the land value comes to around Rs 5 lakh crore.

Here is what I propose that Prime Minister Modi should do to stop this waste of public assets (and free up the locked-up wealth), and at the same time provide for the financial support to the poor during this crisis.

First, the politicians and babus must vacate their publicly provided, free accommodations in Lutyens’ Delhi. We ordinary citizens have to pay rent or buy our own houses. Why should the netas and babus get it for free? Like the rest of us, they should get a salary, and rent or buy the housing they want and can afford. This can be accomplished in a month. Remember, demonetisation was done overnight. The Prime Minister should give them all a month’s notice and demonstrate to the world that he means to correct the wrongs of the British Raj and that India is not going to tolerate it anymore.

The second part is to sell off the public property that is Lutyens’ Delhi. Public property, by definition, belongs to the public, and the public has the right to use it as and when they need to. The proceeds of the sale of Lutyens’ Delhi rightfully belong to all Indians equally, rich and poor. But because the economic effects of the pandemic disproportionately falls on the poor, I propose that the 15 crore families (about 60% of the population) who have been hardest hit be the first to receive their share of the money raised by the sale.

Each of the 15 crore families should receive Rs 30,000 in the next few months. It is not a large amount but it will help them enormously to get back on their feet. With the money, their demand for goods and services will pull industry to increase production, which in turn will generate jobs. While helping the poor, it will give a much-needed boost to the economy without damaging side-effects.

I call this proposal “Prime Minister’s Lutyens’ Delhi Liquidation Relief Yojana” or LLR Yojana. It is not a “universal basic income” (UBI) scheme since it is limited to the poor, and limited to the desperate time India faces now. For the longer term, I have proposed the Dhan Vapasi model, which looks a little like a UBI scheme but is actually a larger idea to bring all public assets currently under-utilised into production. That will increase jobs, incomes, and help create the infrastructure for boosting economic growth.

Rajesh Jain is a technology entrepreneur and founder of Netcore Solutions based in Mumbai. He was a pioneer in Asia’s dotcom revolution, creating India’s first Internet portals in the late 1990s. Views are personal.

This article was first published on the author’s website.

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  1. Unlike privately owned property by the likes of the author, who obviously has made enough money to dream of living in Lutyen’s Delhi, all land in Lutyen’s Delhi is owned by the Government, ie the people. The few privately owned properties belong to the filthy rich who have made money through questionable practices.
    So, let the author understand that the land does not belong to those who stay in these houses. They stay in these bungalows only for a slong as they hold a a particular office. The new occupants similarly stay in these houses only because it is necessary for them to stay in a central location, where the Ministries are located.
    Yes there is corruption in the bureaucracy but it pales into insignificance when you see the corruption in the world of crony capitalism. Let those who failed to join the bureaucracy not salivate for the perks of office that come with bureaucratic positions.
    Take a look around you Mr. Author, the entire war against COVID 19 is fought by the bureaucratic government establishment. Whether is is the hospitals, panchayat, block, district, state or central level, there is no responsibility being shared by the corporate sector. Even the cremation of bodies is being done by police and civil administration because people, who are constantly eying the green acres in Lutyens Delhi, are too scared for their lives and want to keep in hiding.
    Stop this motivated bashing of the bureaucracy. The government organisations are the only ones that have kept this nation working. Keep making your money and stop looking at the perks of office of this dedicated set of people with jaundiced eyes.
    Satyamev Jayate.

  2. Good that it is mentioned by the print that the views are personal. Though the suggestions made in the article are so absurd that they don’t even merit a discussion but for the sake of a fair discussion, the reasons why this is an absurd suggestion is because-
    1. The reason why Lutyens bungalow zone has its premium prices (based on which the valuation has been done by the learned author), is because only 1% of this zone is currently held as private property. Once the land parcels held by the government become available for private consumption, the premium prices are going to fall to levels which are much lower, per square yard as compared to any other area in Delhi.
    2. There are many restrictions on the construction which is allowed in this bungalow zone and one of them is that any high rise is not allowed. Therefore if the land parcels are made available for sale, then they can not fetch even the circle rate price in per square metre because the circle rates for this area are substantially high. Let us assume that the author might give an arguement that the government can relax the rules for construction allowing high rises to come up. This would then lead a chain of litigation by the existing holders of private property not just in Lutyens bungalow zone but also other areas in Delhi where many similar restrictions apply including civil lines, old Delhi, New Delhi and parts of South Delhi.
    3. No matter what is done, the fancy figure of 5 lakh crores of revenue collection can not be achieved and even a small fraction of this revenue collection seems to be unachievable. I guess that this fancy figure has not considered that a large part inside LBZ is green zone and also roads, which I believe have also included in calculating the total area.
    4. The Members of parliament, the ministers and the ‘babus’ have to live somewhere, right? Unless there is an alternate arrangement already in place where does one propose to shift them? Also the author is not aware that there is already an acute shortage of residential accomodation for Civil servants (read Babus) and that is why high rises have already been constructed at INA. There are only Few colonies like Kaka Nagar and Pandara Road where Babus live in flats in two story buildings. And these flats one gets at very senior levels. Otherwise the rest of them live in rented accommodation or other scarce government accomodation in areas much farther, like Kaushambi in Ghaziabad, Mayapuri, Pitampura etc.
    4. It is important to understand that if the land parcels are immediately released for private consumption, none of it can expect to sell at the prevailing prices , so what is the point of creating a disruption when the property is also sold and the expected revenue is not fetched?
    5. By that logic, the government should let go one by one all the land parcels that it holds but then if need arises, the procurement of land at many times the then market rate would be prohibitive.
    Therefore any solution to generate revenue can not be a one time solution. Yes there have to be ways to address the revenue shortfall and added requirements but it has to be a holistic approach, part of which is by selling government resources which can fetch a decent value commensurate with their utility.

  3. It would be a better option to shift the capital out of Delhi into a new planned city somewhere in Uttar Pradesh (my suggestion would be Kannauj for historical value) and decongest the city of Delhi completely.

  4. For those who are not very familiar with Delhi, Lutyens Delhi or more properly the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (LBZ) is an area of around 4000 acres (latest demarcation in 2003) which is on the 2002 Worlds Monument Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. It houses the Rashtrapati Bhavan, major government offices and other buildings like the National Museum and Vigyan Bhavan. It also houses minister’s bungalows and some (not all) government official residences. There are many large plots which are available for sale, but there are strict building norms (single floor, restricted floor area ratio etc.) because of which these plots are less attractive and expensive than some other areas in New Delhi. It is a showpiece of modern India (and not just Indraprastha or so many of the Dillis down the ages). Of all the cities in the country, this area is the one place which makes one feel proud to be an Indian. I know I cannot afford to live there; in fact I can’t afford a flat even Yamuna Paar.
    The author is a well known, well off, well connected individual and certainly not ‘an ordinary citizen’. If things had gone well, he would have had a Rajya Sabha seat and got a bungalow in this area. Then I would not have to write this reply. :-).
    Firstly, who is going to buy these places? Unless the restrictions are removed, (which is basically going to make this area like Greater Kailash or something, I fear very few individuals in this country are going to shell out that money. There are corporates who may want to invest but will not unless they can make a killing. The author would know that there are hundreds of extremely expensive properties in Mumbai which have been taken by CBDT because they were undervalued during registration, and now there are no takers for them. The same is the case with assets lying with financial institutions against defaulted loans.
    Secondly, like the author would know, an ailing company does not under sell assets but tries to increase income and productivity to grow. We have one of the lowest tax-GDP ratios among similar countries. One percent of Indians control more than 60% of the country’s wealth, many of whom have brilliant lawyers who can avoid taxes better than Keanu Reaves avoiding bullets. This is official avoidance; we have not even touched the thousands of crores defalcated by large corporate houses and individuals. We still dont know how much tax Flipkart and Amazon actually pay to the country. India has more than 100 billionaires (that is someone with net worth of more than Rs 8000 crore). And we proudly state that our biggest tax payer is a Bollywood film star!! Banks tumble, PF accounts funds of the UP government go missing in housing finance companies, huge amounts keep the Panama companies busy, yet we dont have money to take care of our citizens.
    Thirdly, this year, the Union Budget has allocated the largest share of Rs. 75,000 crore to the PM Kisan program (6000 rupees to 12.6 crore farmers). There is a slightly smaller allocation to MNREGA. However, both these programs suffer from two main shortcomings: a) the money doesn’t reach the beneficiary, and b) it does not get them out of the poverty cycle. Providing a one-time Rs. 30,000/- sop per BPL family is not going to solve anything. Of course it would be a fantastic political ‘optic.’ Further, transferring that money to 75 crore people is itself something that is going to pose major challenges with more than 20 crore people still not having an Aadhaar card, and many more not having a bank account.
    The answer lies in governance – so easy to put forth, so hard to implement. Those babus and elected representatives whom we seek to evict from Lutyens Delhi – they are the ones who are supposed to provide us governance. Even if we throw them out and somehow manage to get Rs 30,000 to each of the BPL families, things are not going to improve. They will improve only when our elected representatives do an honest job and make our babus work. These representatives start from the Panchayat Mukhiya/Pradhan/President and goes up to our MPs and indeed the Prime Minister. But they all need to work, not just the man at the top.
    Senior officials tell me they have nothing to do during the lockdown and are becoming social media stars. Amazing!!! I would think these would be the busiest times of their career. Ministers are not able to clear files because the broker cannot meet up with them to discuss “appropriate compensation”. Governments are not able to get ready despite the 40-day lockdown because procurement deals have gone wrong.
    I do not wish to impute intention to an opinion, that too of a highly regarded person, (and cleared by a highly regarded Chief Editor), but the idea of selling your ‘ghar ke bartan” to give Rs 30,000 to 12.5 crore people sounds rather naive.

  5. Not correct. The government can pay rs 30000 without doing so as it has enough money. The elected political leaders need good safe accommodation as all are not rich. But if they have their own accommodation in the city, they can live there. But Babus as government employees have the option to rent accommodation for which they get HRA or live in government accommodation by foregoing HRA and paying rent for it. We do not need very drastic actions like this or stopping any new government projects like the new parliament building. We should focus on the revival of industrialization for the employment of all the labor quickly. Now all leaders and babus without any cut in their perks should be encouraged to do exemplary work of revival of economy and recouping of losses and resetting all disruptions caused by this pandemic. If they can do it, they can even be rewarded. Need is for improvement in the financial condition of all so that they work harder for the further economic improvement of the country. We should adopt capitalism here not socialism to take India back to license and corruption raj.

  6. I propose the Rajesh Jain Liquidation Relief Yojana where anybody by the name Rajesh Jain has to sell all his assets to public at large and donate the money to people that lost their jobs due to the Covid crisis. This can be a private sector pilot and the Govt can consider its outcomed for a larger rollout. If this Yojana is not acceptable, we can send all Rajesh Jains to forests for the next 14 years.

  7. True Now the time has come. If any one able to get implemented is none other than P M. At least phased wise it can be implemented. We do agree with Rajesh ji, Thanks for timely article . Time now is for the government to look nook & corner to get money to serve the people, especially the poor ones.
    Nagesh Rao

  8. wishful thinking my dear sir.
    this will never ever happen in india.
    you are under estimating the collective greed of our politicians.

  9. I have forwarded this message to our Beloved PRIME MINISTER to set right the wrong practices follwed so far in our MOTHER LAND.
    With best wishes for betterment always,
    Yours sincerely,
    No 13 , 5 the CROSS , NR COLONY , BANGALORE – 560019.
    Mobile/WhatsApp : 9483271683

  10. Disagree with the suggestion outright. My father was one of the people from his village who left it to seek employment outside. Doing menial jobs, he got recruited into the army and due to his hard work rose in the hierarchy to be capable enough to give us an education, which makes me capable enough to write this repartee. Today he lives an unsung life which is not in any way reminiscent of his industriousness. If there is anybody deserving of the largesse of Lutyens Delhi, it is people like him who have toiled and provided taxes to take care of the lesser privileged. Those people like him who sacrificed much in his life to give the next generation a firm standing to do better. If at all you want poor and the needy to benefit, address corruption, address frivolous waste of money like the statue of unity and the proposed redesign of Lutyens Delhi. You want money to give to the poor – make the contribution to political parties transparent and then let’s see who benefits from the leverages of cash. Those are the people who meed to be targeted. Your suggestion of paying a salary to the elected representatives and charging them for the perquisites they enjoy is wholeheartedly supported.

  11. Right. So we should make it unattractive for talented people to want to join the bureaucracy, thereby ensuring a further decline in the standards of governance.

    Or maybe Mr. Jain can give up some of the lucre he has earned after benefitting from taxpayer-subsidized IIT education, in the interest of the poor.

    Many well-educated and talented people chose to join the civil service, and have spent entire careers on modest salaries, while people like Jain have minted hundreds of millions of dollars. It ill behoves a fat cat to grudge them.

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