Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Campa Cola Cocktail

Take prime property in the island city of Mumbai, add some unscrupulous builders, a liberal sprinkling of corrupt city officials and politicians, and a privileged upper class who believe that anything in the city can be fixed for a price, shake and stir,  and you have a molotov cocktail waiting to explode in our face.

The hypocrisy of democracy
The Campa Cola cocktail that hit the headlines and all media channels with politicians from all sides taking the side of the residents ( as if the politicians take any  side other than their own ), lays bare the hypocricy of our democracy. If the affected residents did not belong to the privileged and connected class, they would be homeless today. Every day in the city of Mumbai slum dwellers are rendered homeless in conscious disregard of their right to shelter. In this city only the privileged and connected have an unwritten right to shelter, and when that is threatened the media descends and the ensuing photo ops attract politicians of all hues and leanings to make grand statements of their commitment to set things right. In the ensuing free for all we tend to lose sight of all facts, ignore all city planning rules ,and even the Supreme Court judges lose sleep and wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night to give them more time to find a solution. Where were the honorable judges when thousands of slum dwellers are thrown out of their hovels with not so much as decent notice? Did they forget that the Campa Cola residents had lost their case in every court of law, and were given a last extension based on their own undertaking to vacate peacefully? If anybody else had gone back on their written undertaking to the supreme court, it would be contempt of court.

The audacity of the connected
The power of the visual media to influence our judicial process should be a matter of great concern to all law abiding citizens. Why go to court when you can go to Arnab Goswami or Barkha Datt instead, who can out shout anyone and plead your case more effectively than any supreme court lawyer? And probably cheaper too? They have the ability to rouse sleeping judges from their slumber and change their minds Try getting your lawyer to do that.

Whatever happened to the concept of caveat emptor, one of the first concepts taught in law school. Buyer Beware. You are supposed to do some due diligence before you buy property. If the residents case is that they were unaware that the apartment they bought was illegal, and that they were duped by the builders, maybe they deserved to be duped either because they were lazy to do their homework, or they were greedy ( because there has always been a difference between the per square foot rate in campa cola vs any comparable property in a similar location). They were confident in their ability to get everything fixed eventually. And they were right. They may actually succeed.

We paid taxes, they say. As if it is a favour. Everybody who lives in this city pays taxes, including slum dwellers. Every time you buy a product or service, you pay taxes. You cant pay taxes on an illegal product or service and make it legal. You pay your taxes to use the city services like water, roads, security, sewage.

The builders are going scotfree they claim. And that is right. They should be made to pay, both by the authorities and by each individual owner who has been duped. That is a right the residents always had and continue to have. So should all city officials and who colluded with the builders in allowing this to happen and for turning a blind eye for so long.

The asymmetry of sympathy
There is an obvious asymmetry of sympathy here. For the connected few the public, the media, the judiciary, the politicians, all come together. For the dispossessed slum dweller, no tear is shed.

This cocktail has the potential to blow our city into complete disarray, as this becomes a precedent to regularize the over 50000 illegal constructions that have come up in the city over the last few years. We may as well give up the fig leaf of town planning, in this city that is already bursting at its seams.