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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 15, April 2, 2011

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Friday 8 April 2011

by Shobha Aggarwal

Respected Sir,

In December 2005 your good-self had launched the flagship scheme, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), with the stated objective of urban development. The policy document clearly enunciates the mandatory reforms to be implemented by the States and civic agencies during 2005-12. To receive funds—Rs 60,000 crores in all earmarked by the Central Government—under the JNNURM, the states and civic agencies have to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) clearly enunciating the time-frame within which the mandatory reforms would be achieved. One of the mandatory reforms under the JNNURM is of rental laws. On September 11, 2007 an MoA was signed between the Union Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) or Union Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation and the Government of the NCT of Delhi (GNCTD) and others in which four pages pertaining to the mandatory reform of Rent Control Act have been kept unfilled.

On February 2, 2009 in reply to an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 the Comptroller and Auditor General of India informed that:

Audit has concluded that as the MoA executed by the MoUD was conditional and deficient, the release of Central Assistance to GNCTD was irregular.

The Central Government continues to provide funds to the GNCTD under the JNNURM in complete violation of the terms and conditions of the JNNURM and even granting one-time exemptions to various ongoing projects. The GNCTD has received several thousand crores of rupees from JNNURM funds—primarily to spruce up the city of Delhi for the Common-wealth Games 2010.

During the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 while we at the Public Interest Litigation Watch Group were campaigning against the release of the JNNURM funds to the GNCTD till the rental law reform was carried out, the MoUD kept insisting that the MoA with the GNCTD is under further negotiation/finalisation of some element including rent control. However, we were shocked to learn through a communication, dated April 19, 2010, received from the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, that having regard to the fact inter-alia the preparatory steps required to be taken for the Commonwealth Games, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) in its meeting held on December 10, 2009 granted exemption to the GNCTD from implementation of rental law reform! In fact, all the JNNURM funding to the GNCTD during the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 prior to this CCI decision got legitimised!! And another quiet burial for rental law reform!!! The fact is that if the mandatory reforms are to be buried six fathoms deep—as in the case of Delhi—then the entire JNNURM flagship scheme falls flat on its face. The Government of India might as well dole out funds through the regular budget rather than create an illusion of funds being given in lieu of the stated mandatory reforms all in the name of urban renewal. And why should the holding of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi be touted as a good enough excuse to release JNNURM funds for projects unrelated to urban renewal like Connaught Place renovation?

You would recall that in 1995 the then Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, had made efforts to get the MoUD to notify the Delhi Rent Act, 1995 (DRA 1995). This could not materialise as the general elections were round the corner in early 1996 and there was an apprehension in government circles about the violation of Model Code of Conduct were the notification to be issued. The apprehension was unfounded.

At that time a section of the tenant-traders in the old markets of Delhi were pressing for some changes in the DRA 1995. Keeping this in mind the government introduced the Delhi Rent (Amendment) Bill, 1997 in the Rajya Sabha. This Bill got referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Urban and Rural Development which submitted its report suggesting some changes in the 1997 Amendment Bill on December 21, 2000. The government accepted all the recommendations of this Committee on April 3, 2001. During the period 2001 to 2003 on several occasions notice for moving official amendments to the Amendment Bill of 1997 (pending in the Rajya Sabha) were accordingly issued to the Secretary General, Rajya Sabha. The Bill, however, could not come up for discussion though it was listed for consideration and passage. Thereafter no notices were issued during the monsoon session and winter session of 2003. After the constitution of the 14th Lok Sabha and formation of new government, the file along with note for the Cabinet was submitted in August 2004 for kind consideration/approval of the Union Minister for Urban Development (UDM). The matter is still pending with the UDM. Sir, the public would like to know for how long can a Union Cabinet Minister sit on a file without taking any decision—six years, ten years or till eternity? For how long can a file be kept away from public scrutiny? Why is the transparency in administration and governance being given a go-by? Why is this serious flaw being glossed over even by the PMO?

EARLIER, attempts were made by Common Cause to get the DRA 1995 notified by filing a case in the Delhi High Court in 1997; because of difference of opinion between the learned judges of the High Court on whether a writ of mandamus could or could not be issued directing the Central Government to notify the DRA 1995, the matter went to the Supreme Court in appeal. The Supreme Court in its judgement dated October 8, 2003 declined to issue a writ of mandamus to the Central Government to notify the DRA 1995, as it was in the domain of the executive to do so.

In May 2003 a petition was filed by the Common Cause before the Committee on Petitions, Rajya Sabha regarding the early passage of the Delhi Rent (Amendment) Bill, 1997 in the Rajya Sabha. The Committee in its Hundred and Nineteenth Report on the petition presented to the Rajya Sabha on June 7, 2004 observed that the Government has not set a healthy precedent by deferring enforcement of a law passed by Parliament in this case the Delhi Rent Act, 1995—so much so that it has not taken any effective steps to ensure early passage of Delhi Rent (Amendment) Bill, 1997 …

Even as late as January 2009 the Committee for the Repeal of Delhi Rent Control Act had petitioned to the Secretary-General, Rajya Sabha praying that the Delhi Rent (Amendment) Bill, 1997 be brought to the notice of the Rajya Sabha for early enactment of the legislation. The comments of the MoUD to our petition reveal that even after fifteen years of the passage of DRA 1995 there is total apathy—almost bordering on contempt of Parliament—for immediate notification of the Act. In fact the MoUD reply is a confession that the Ministry has taken no concrete steps in the last seven years for rental law reforms.

The Rajya Sabha website shows that the MoUD had given two assurances on the floor of the House in Rajya Sabha on the issue of notification of Delhi Rent Act, 1995. In the first assurance (No. 197/366) given in 2002, 24 extensions have been taken by MoUD. In the second assurance (No. 212/208) given in 2007, five extensions have been taken by MoUD.

Finally, in January 2010 we filed a writ petition titled Shobha Aggarwal and others versus Union of India and another WP(C) 516/2010 in the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958 and praying for compensation to the property owners for getting a pittance as rent over the last five decades. But this court case should not be now used as an excuse by the powers that be that the matter is subjudice. Actually this writ petition of ours neither deals with DRA 1995 nor with the Delhi Rent (Amendment) Bill, 1997. We used this strategy primarily to ensure that the government does not continue to show masterly inactivity—and this time around by invoking the lame excuse of the matter being subjudice. It is not.

Sir, it is contempt of both Parliament as well as the President of India that the DRA 1995 which has been unanimously passed by Parliament and assented to by the President of India on August 23, 1995 is not being notified. The ensuing masterly inactivity on this front is an assault on the Constitution of India. Thus for the last sixteen years the DRA 1995 stays un-notified. Both the High Court of Delhi and Supreme Court of India in the early years of this decade have shied from asking the government to notify the Act. There has been no protest in the last sixteen years by any one group against notification of Delhi Rent Act, 1995. You being the father of economic reforms in India may we ask you why the Delhi Rent Act, 1995 is not being notified? Even as late March 2011 the Cabinet papers pertaining to exemption of Delhi from rental law reform are being hidden from public domain even with the Right to Information Act in place. This scam around the JNNURM would pale the 2G scam into insignificance.

Yours sincerely,

Shobha Aggarwal

Public Interest Litigation Watch Group

Email: pilwatchgroup@gmail.com

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