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Be careful what you advertise #BJP #Haryana #Assemblypolls #land #realestate

Poll season is about the strangest of radio ads. While driving to work this morning, I was surprised to hear a BJP ad for the Haryana Assembly elections that directly addressed the issue of State-sponsored land grab by developers. In the ad, a Haryanvi farmer talks about how the government has used the ruse of wrongly declaring fertile lands to be infertile to hand land over to developers, thus disenfranchising farmers and leaving them out of the development process. Another ad in the same campaign talks about the challenges farmers face to access water for irrigation. Clearly, BJP is aggressively wooing the rural voter in Haryana. Which is all well and good.

800px-Green_farms_of_Jats_in_HaryanaWhat intrigues me is the implication that the BJP, if elected, will NOT develop agricultural land if it is fertile! Is that even possible for a State that seems to have put most of its eggs into the urbanization basket over the past few years? Leveraging its border with Delhi seems to be an important objective for the State from its recent planning documents.

Of course, Haryana has had a Congress government and these policies could, in theory, change if a new government were to come to power. But, as a colleague cynically quipped, if the BJP were to rule then the land taken from the farmer might go to a Reliance instead of DLF, with nothing really changing for the farmer!

We see a general disillusionment with agriculture across India and a decline of the farm sector, but in Haryana, farming is culturally ingrained. Land and farming are a very strong part of the identity of the Haryanvi people. I’m no expert, but perhaps the State has the opportunity to re-focus on the agri sector, for which it needs to think about compact, transit-oriented, well-planned cities instead of the sprawling, poorly conceived urban stretches we see when we drive around the State.

Curtailing freedom of expression will not solve anything: Let ‘Midnight’s Children’ be screened- Sep 10, 2012

Decades after the Satanic Verses was banned, in another time and another era, we revisit the paranoia around Rushdie’s work with the possible banning of the film Midnight’s Children in India. Deepa Mehta’s cinematic take on the book is expected to be brilliant. And it would be a pity for Indian audiences to miss out on it, considering it tells the story of a nation post Independence with all the imagination and panache that only Rushdie can have.

The controversial aspect of the film is its portrayal, in a negative light, of a Prime Minister closely resembling Indira Gandhi and her declaration of Emergency. At the time the book was released, Indira Gandhi had sued Rushdie libel in a London Court.Interestingly, it wasn’t the criticism of her political actions that annoyed Indira, but this particular passage: “”It has often been said that Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything.” These words were removed from all post-1984 editions of the book.

We can all safely say that the above is a piece of amusing trivia in today’s context. Much has been written and said about the Emergency and other writers of fiction have set their stories in that traumatic context, usually ending up criticizing the seizure of democracy fro the Indian people and the restrictions on freedom that it entailed.

However, it doesn’t look like all this is history for the ruling Congress party and the Gandhi family. Over 25 years after Indira has passed on, this country is still trying to skirt the issue, be politically correct, run away. We are dangerously close to being in a sort of Emergency situation now, with freedom of artistic expression being curtailed in the name of security. The Aseem Trivedi incident, the crackdown in Bengal on anyone who stands up to Mamata, the intolerance of the Indian government on Washington Post’s article on the PM as a tragic figure…..

When we subscribe to the view that any sort of media can incite tension and violence and therefore view cutting down the freedom of expression as a logical response, we are on very dangerous ground indeed! One of the reasons why it is a pleasure to live in India, despite the infrastructure issues, the social divide, the growing pressure of resources, the inefficiency and corruption, is the feeling of enjoying a certain sort of freedom. The pleasure of walking the streets without a Big Brother watching you. The ability to be who you are, more or less. The ability to voice dissatisfaction and dissent without fear, as long as we do it non violently.

If that changes, we lose an essential part of our identity. Each one of us should fight to continue to enjoy the right to free expression. To do so, we would first need to rid ourselves of easy prejudice and truly open our minds. Is that asking too much of a nation full of people just struggling for their piece of a rapidly shrinking pie?

 

Regularizing colonies triggers densification, but may not mean better amenities or quality of life- Aug 30, 2012

When day before yesterday’s newspapers screamed out the regularization of 917 unauthorized colonies in Delhi, I was not surprised. With the assembly elections coming up early in 2013, barely months away, such a populistic measure was entirely expected from Sheila Dixit in the waning days of her long, long stint as the captain of affairs in the country’s capital.

For those of us who have worked on projects related to low-income housing in Delhi, the 2013 assembly elections have been a much-awaited milestone. People in the know have assured us that all pending decisions on projects will get pushed through (regardless of merit perhaps!) as the elections near.

For those wondering, regularizations confers legal status on settlements that came up illegally on land zoned for some other use on the Master Plan. Typically, agricultural land on the fringes of the city is plotted and developed into low-income housing by land owners and other entrepreneurs. Immigrants come in and build homes here in the absence of legal, affordable housing in the city. They survive on scrounged resources, barely any basic amenities initially, till eventually even these come, haltingly, illegally to these settlements. Meanwhile, the legally approved city grows in around them. Inevitably, granting these  settlements legal status is the only sensible option.

Granting legal status also means governments are obliged to now provide the basic amenities, which is a tall order. Sure enough, the following day, the newspapers carried pieces criticizing the inability of the government to provide electricity, water and sewage connections for the colonies it has regularized.

However, a legal status is a clean chit for densification and redevelopment in these colonies. Even before the amenities come in, homes will be bought and sold, new floors added and home prices will shoot through the roof! Such is the demand for real estate in Delhi!

This endless cycle of illegal to legal has been going on in this city for decades. Isn’t it high time Delhi took a realistic look at its future development, needs and planned for the inevitable growth in a better manner? We must remember that neither land, nor other vital resources like water are infinitely available. A better plan to grow is a must, or else the resources will run out and there will be blood on the streets.

Disturbed by the political paralysis at the Center- May 8, 2012

The political deadlock we are seeing at the Center in India is really disturbing. When we do shavasana in yoga class, our teacher tells us to focus on each body part and let it go, imagining that it is no longer now part of the body, is detached, dysfunctional. That’s how the current political madness plays out in my mind. As if, one by one, critical functions are being rendered defunct and India will eventually reach a state of suspended animation!

Sounds like nonsense, perhaps, but it’s really scary! I agree that the Congress government has botched up on serious issues. But its still got two more years in power. So unless the Opposition really thinks it has a good chance at toppling the government and having early elections, I don’t see the point in obstructing anything and everything the ruling party is trying to do, obstructing Parliamentary proceedings, obstructing the business of policy making, the business of governing a country as large and chaotic as India, where children die in thousands and Maoists abduct ajd kill policemen!

I guess I don’t see the point because I am politically dumb, but really, as a citizen, I see each day go by as a wasted opportunity to make positive changes. When the top politicians in the nation engage in meaningless scuffles, citizens like me wonder what the future is going to be like!

The world is seeing massive economic shifts; the rules are being redefined and the growing economies (like ours) need to deliver. Or we can craft our own set of rules on how we would want to grow in order to secure a better future for our citizens and contribute positively to the global economy.

In the end, the targets for India are crystal clear. Address poverty, health, education and governance. Create a climate of opportunity, encourage entrepreneurship, attract investment towards sustainable industries that can nurture communities, not destroy them. Those would be highest on my list.

There as so many petitions I am asked to sign-Save the Girl Child, Speak Against Child Sexual Abuse, Stop Illegal Mining, Stop Ragging…..and so on. Can we put up a petition for Parliamentarians to make the Parliament function? Incidentally, that’s their job. Who gives them a right to waste public money fighting amongst themselves. Debate, by all means, but also take some decisions! The future of the nation, the future of you and me depends on it.

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