I referred, last week, to this paper by Ananya Roy which argues that informality and the collapse of rule of law in India is not a result of the disdain that ungovernable masses have for law, but a result of informality amongst the elite sections of society, especially those who hold the reins in the corridors of power. I can give you some oft-cited examples of such informality: First consider the spate of building on the Yamuna floodplain without sufficient deliberation on the environmental impact – and through surreptitious change in land use. Second, consider the Akrama-Sakrama scheme in Bangalore that will “regularize” buildings in violation of building codes for a penalty – we now know it for what it is, a way for the bankrupt municipal corporation to earn some extra revenue. And in the third instance, let me cite the Adarsh housing society scam in Mumbai, in which top politicians and officials got apartments allotted to themselves in a housing society meant for the widows of army men killed in the Kargil conflict.
Even though such news is passe in India, I had a bit of a shock when I read this news report, according to which MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) – Mumbai’s planning authority – is itself illegally occupying a terrace office. The office does not have an “occupancy certificate” because the planning authority has not been paying property taxes to the municipal corporation. And it turns out that the state has also been defaulting on property taxes for many years – and now the state has very generously decided that it should start paying taxes once again.
When the elite, with vast resources at their command, and with so little “need” to act contrary to the law, still refuse to follow the law in letter and spirit, when even governments pay no heed to their legal obligations, why do we expect poor and incapacitated slum dwellers to adhere to the law, when there is no housing but illegal housing available?