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Regulation 16. Never heard of it? A lot of politicians, civil servants—even judges and journalists—certainly have. They probably do puja to it every day. It is part of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority Disposal of Land Rules of 1982 and allows the state government to allot plots of land to "Societies, charitable and educational trusts". As with so many government regulations, couched in wonderful-sounding language, it is nothing less than a clever scam. What actually happens is that politicians and bureaucrats are gifted land at well below the market rate. Many retired senior civil servants live in the heart of Bombay in what is perhaps the most expensive real estate in the world. Their flats, for which they paid just a few lakhs, are now worth three to four crores. Conditions are attached to Regulation 16, like the flats cannot be resold, or paying guests kept there. But do you think anybody cares for such conditions?
The Bombay High Court recently decided to take a closer look at Regulation 16. No less than 60 public plots of land were about to be taken over by the state government. The High Court said, hold on. And for good reason. A year ago, a 2,300 sq metre plot which had been reserved for a school and recreation ground was allotted to something called the Rahebar Foundation. The Foundation turned out to be a trust formed by the family of Maharashtra's minister of state for home affairs. He also happens to be on the sub-committee that allots the land under Regulation 16. Need one say more? The argument is often made that bureaucrats, along with judges and journalists, are grossly underpaid. Letting them buy highly-subsidised flats is one way of compensating them. I don't buy that argument. Pay more. And then let them use their money as they want, just like you and I do. Don't let them grab what belongs to the public.