Read the passages given below carefully and answer the questions that follow.
Many surprises lie in store for an academic who strays into the real world. The first such surprise to come my way during a stint as a university administrator related to the photocopying machines within my jurisdiction. I discovered that paper for the machines plus contractual maintenance cost substantially more than photocopies in the private market. This took no account of the other costs of the photocopiers -ink, spare parts, the space occupied by the machine, the interests and depreciation on it, the wages of the machine operator, the loss of time when the machine broke down or the operator absented himself.
The university–and indeed the entire educational system - was in a financial crisis. Here was a situation calling for a quick and painless execution of all white elephants, or so I thought. I proposed that we stop using the photocopying machines and get our photocopies made by a private operator who had rented space from our institution. Further, we could reduce our costs well below the market price through an agreement with the private operator, which would let him run our surplus machines in exchange for a price concession.
I had expected my proposal to be eagerly embraced by an impoverished university. Instead, it created a furore. In a progressive institution like ours, how could I have the temerity to suggest handing over a university asset to the private sector? Perhaps 1 was in the pay of the private operator. Friends and well-wishers emphasised the necessity of immediately distancing myself from any plan that may conceivably benefit a private entrepreneur - even if it should concurrently benefit the university. That, I gathered, was the essence of financial rectitude.
Abashed, I repented my indiscretion. The photocopying machines were of course no longer used, but neither were they transferred to the enemy in the private sector. We got our photocopying done privately at market prices, not the confessional rates I had proposed. The university lost money, but the family silver was saved from the private enemy. After a decently long period gathering dust and cobwebs, it could be sold as scrap, but that would not be during my tenure.
The story of the photocopying machines is repeated in many different guises throughout our public and semipublic institutions. The public sector is replete with unproductive assets, their sterile purity jealously protected from the seductive influences of private enterprise. There are the pathetic load factors in our power plants. There are fleets of public buses lying in idle disrepair in our state transport depots. There is the fertilizer plant, which has never produced even a gram of fertilizer because, after its executive had scoured the wide world in search of the cheapest possible parts, they found that the specifications of these parts did not match each other. There are the 80 gas guzzling staff cars boasted of by a north Indian university which has little else to boast about.
Perhaps the most spectacular instances of unproductive government assets relate to land. Five years ago, the then minister for surface transport, Jadish Tytler, suggested a plan for developing the vast tracts of unused land in the Delhi Transport Corporation’s bus depots. He argued, entirely credibly, that by leasing out this land for commercial purposes, the DTC could not only cover its chronic and massive deficit but achieve a substantial surplus. The proposal was never implemented; the infiltration of the private sector into DTC depots was heroically resisted by various government department departments and the corporation continued its relentless plunge deeper into the red.
All other examples of public extravagance, however, pale into insignificance alongside the astronomical wastefulness perpetrated by the New Delhi municipal committee and the design of Edwin Lutyen’s Delhi. Delhi unlike all other major cities of the world has a hollow centre – the density of population at the heart of town is negligible. In design, it is no modem metropolis but a medieval imperial capital like the Baghdad of the Abbasid Caliphate. The very centre of the city is entirely occupied by the almost empty palaces of the mighty while hoi polloi throng the periphery and travel long distances daily to serve their masters.
Within the charmed circle of inner New Delhi, ministers and members of parliament, the top military brass and the bureaucratic and the judicial elite of the country luxuriate in sprawling bungalows nestling amidst lush greenery in almost sylvan surroundings. The total land area occupied by these bungalows is one of the best-kept official secrets. The ministry of urban development keeps no count of aggregates, but it appears that there are about 600 bungalows with areas varying from one to 10 acres. A not implausible estimate of the total area is about 10 million square yards.
A conservative estimate of the value of land in central New Delhi is Rs. 1,00,000 per square yard. Six hundred families of VIPs are occupying real estate worth about Rs. 1,000 billion; at an interest rate bf 12%. This sum would yield an annual income of Rs. 120 billion. This amounts to more than one per cent of the gross domestic product.
If the government were to move these six hundred families to the outskirts of the town and lease this land out, say for multi-storied residential construction – subject, of course, to environmental restrictions that would protect the existing greenery – the primary deficit of India would be wiped out.
What is more, rents would drop all over the city and the housing problem of Delhi would be solved, if not fully, at least in substantial measure. Further, there would be a major inward shift of population reducing transport requirements, and making it more lucrative for public transport to ply through inner Delhi. The removal of the six hundred would, at one stroke, relieve the accommodation and transport problems of Delhi as well as the budget deficit of the country. But who would bell the cat? Would the government do it, considering that 600 are the government?
Public interest litigation has of late highlighted a relatively minor aspect of the VIP housing issue: the abuse of ministerial discretion in making out of turn allotments. This focuses attention on the question of a fair distribution between the members of the elite of the fruits of power. In the process, unfortunately, a question of infinitely larger import has been conveniently consigned to oblivion. Doesn’t the entire scheme of VIP housing in New Delhi imply organized plunder of the citizenry on a scale quite unprecedented and totally incompatible with the principles of a democratic society?
Strangely enough, this matter has entirely eluded the searchlight of public attention. Political parties, the media public interest litigants, grass root people’s movements have all maintained a resounding reticence on the issue. When the excesses perpetrated in the name of VIP security provoked public protest, the Prime Minister desired that VIP security should be made "unobtrusive". VIP housing, however, is an entirely unobtrusive burden on the public, but a burden of quite mind-boggling proportions. Perhaps it is the silent character of this infliction that has made it so easy to impose. Or perhaps centuries of colonial rule have made habitual slaves of us: a mere 50 years of democracy cannot erase our slavish habit of obsequiousness to the imperial state and its rulers.
The author’s proposal to lease out the land occupied by bungalows for multi-store dyed residential construction would:
- Spoil the ecology of inner New Delhi
- Wipe out the primary deficit of India
- Create a surplus of Rs. 120 billion for the Municipal Committee.
- Enhance the greenery of the inner city.