Land is the Mother of All Scams.

Ever since Pranab Mukherjee was made to vacate the number two position in cabinet and Finance ministry by sending him packing to Rashtrapati Bhavan , and P Chidambaram moved deftly back to his favourite grazing ground leaving behind an unfinished agenda in Home ministry of terrorism and insurgency; both Chidambaram and Man Mohan Singh have been breathlessly trying to cheer markets with talk of reforms. Hiking Diesel price, capping subsidised LPG cylinders, Allowing Foreign Direct Investment (How can we survive without it?) or enhancing its threshold limit in Multi-Brand retail, Aviation, Insurance and Pension funds; were the *slew* of measures announced. *Animal Spirits* were highly animated. They clamoured for more. Most important of these was making land acquisition easier and sure for projects and urban development. The bill that is to replace colonial era land acquisition law and has been pending since long was taken up for discussions in Empowered Group of Ministers [EGoM] meetings and its provisions meant to protect farmers and small landholders were progressively and deliberately whittled down. Chidambaram proposed formation of National Investment Board – a single window clearance authority for all *big ticket projects*- that would do away with any inter-ministry consultations in order to *fast track* such ventures. Chidambaram’s zeal as a *business friendly reformer* was captured by Reuters thus: ^^Finance Minister P. Chidambaram exudes the self-confidence of a man who, in the eyes of India’s cheerleading financial markets, can do little wrong.  In the 11 weeks since he took office, the Sensex has surged around 8 percent, due in large part to his hard-charging drive to boost investor sentiment that had soured under his predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee^^.
These were the low lying fruits. But rating agencies were not impressed. They want India to contain fiscal deficit. And any talk of deficit containment veers as naturally as rain coming down instead of going up to cutting the subsidies that are meant to cushion the poor -subsidies offered for food security and for employment guarantee schemes. Then there are administrative reforms like moving to a single Goods & Services Tax [GST] to replace plethora of taxes in vogue now; but these are facing hurdles in Centre-States council for revenue sharing arrangements. Though stock markets were impressed, like rating agencies even the business analysts were brutally sceptical. ^^….the window of opportunity for implementing game-changing reforms such as slashing government spending on fuel, food and fertiliser subsidies will narrow as campaigning for a 2014 election gets under way. When you are fixated on equity markets and you are doing whatever you can to push them higher that is exactly what you will see, said economist Rajeev Malik of CLSA, Singapore. Pushing up equity markets is a lot easier than taking up some of these more difficult moves^^.  Chidambaram valiantly tried to salvage the euphoria his *dynamism* had generated, but was badly dented by open threats of credit rating downgrades, through soothsaying: ^^Government has taken and will take further fiscal measures, and these will encourage the RBI to take *calibrated risks*, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said, adding that India does not deserve a ratings downgrade“India does not deserve a ratings downgrade,” he said. On the parameters of potential for growth and actual growth, India is way above the rest of the world^^.
His encouragements to RBI to take calibrated risks, that is reduce interest rates, have fallen on deaf ears of independent regulator so far, worried as it is with containing inflation, especially food inflation, which is not showing signs of abating for long and is likely to worsen because of deficient monsoons. As if his woes were not already worrisome, Arvind Kejariwal once again burst on the scene with accusations of corruption where it hurts most -The Gandhi Family- and on an issue which is likely to explode in grass-root movements across India – Land. Chidambaram bemoaned that all his well laid plans were led astray by the *negativity* created by *slew* of corruption charges. Man Mohan Singh was galvanised to make noises about *intrusion of privacy* and suggest dilution in the provisions of Right to Information Act [RTI], which was used to unearth the recently revealed scandals of Robert Vadra, Son in Law of Sonia Gandhi, of Salman Khurshid, Union Law Minister, and of Nitin Gadkari, BJP President. M K Venu, editor of Financial Express, wrote a rare commendable article: Congress should Fully Own RTI: ^^Vadra had shown an overdraft of R7.4 crore received from the Corporation Bank. This has been outrightly denied by the Corporation Bank. Now, Arvind Kejriwal’s team wants the RoC and other relevant government departments to investigate the source of R7.4 crore in the balance sheet, shown as overdraft. Whose money was it? In short, the government is tying itself in knots over the Vadra-DLF affair. In public perception, at least among the middle classes, Kejriwal has seized the moment and has managed to distract the government from its task of implementing new reforms it had embarked on. The focus may well shift back to corruption in high places now…. The Vadra-DLF association simply shows how the geometric growth in land values in the past 10 years, driven by global and domestic liquidity, had led to the commoditisation of real estate which became an easy milch cow for a small elite that had the benefit of privileged information. Regional parties and politicians have also made hay by buying up massive land near developmental sites such as airports, roads, etc, about which they had privileged information^^.
What has come out is not new or unknown. Anybody with eyes, ears, and open mind can see it. But now this discourse has moved centre-stage from being discussed in private circles. The Reforms Centre-Piece, the Cherry on the Reform Pie, was going to be the new land acquisition act that would have helped satiate somewhat the voracious appetite of the industry and real estate developers for land. Land for mining, land for infrastructure projects in *public private partnership*, land for mega township-malls, land for severely lagging SEZs, and so on. But now LAND is seen as the Mother of all scams. Does it mean a hard landing for the establishment and burial for reforms? Sonia Gandhi has realised the risk. She has decided to fight a rearguard action: Sonia Gandhi vetoes dilution of land acquisition bill; ^^Congress leadership has vetoed the dilution of land acquisition bill, saying that 80% landowners have to agree to let the government acquire their land for private projectsThe bottom line has been laid down by UPA chief Sonia Gandhi barely two days after a ministerial panel headed by Sharad Pawar finalized the draft bill, which says that consent of 67% landowners would suffice for government to acquire land. Congress sources asserted to TOI that there can be no compromise on “not less than 80%” threshold as it flowed Congress’s political agenda^^.  The plain truth is for everyone to see in the wake of Vadra-DLF allegations. It is something more serious than a political agenda. Political agenda is a matter of expediency. But, Family Agenda is a matter of life and death. That is why the *Congress Source* is so sure in asserting that there is and would be no compromise. Period. Funny thing is that one of the volunteers with Kejariwal’s India Against Corruption [IAC], Anjali Damania, has been shown to be a *Real Estate Developer* of agricultural land by converting land use to non-agricultural purposes. But her claim is that she did everything as per the laws of the land and nothing illegal. Well, many real estate developers would find refuge in the same defense. Real question therefore is whether laws of the land are equal and same for everyone. That is where IAC falters, in defining Corruption.  
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