Town and Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardesai has announced that the state government would compile the data on illegal structures that have come up in the state between 2005 and 2017. Does this mean that the government has intention to act only against the illegal constructions made during the past 12 years? Will the government not deal sternly with the illegal constructions – both residential and commercial – that were raised in the decades since Liberation? Among the reasons for illegal constructions are troublesome government laws and bureaucratic harassment which dissuade people from taking permissions. Besides, the state did not have a regional plan since 2001 and people find it difficult to get approvals from the authorities concerned. The T&CP Minister has acknowledged that illegalities in constructions were rampant mainly because people were unable to get conversion certificates and other approvals.
Though two regional plans (2011 and 2021) were framed they did not see the light of the day following opposition on various counts. In 2012, the BJP promised to frame a comprehensive regional plan after taking into consideration the inputs from all stakeholders but failed to keep its promise. The new BJP-led coalition has promised to frame RP 2030, which might take several years to be finalized. It has become a habit in the state to oppose anything and everything even if the documents are prepared by experts in the given fields. A good regional plan with clear rules would have prevented illegalities but for some reason or the other the state authorities allowed themselves to be driven by agitations against making rules and setting norms for planning and development. Illegal constructions have sprung up everywhere, including on comunidade lands. The government had set the year 2000 for regularizing illegal structures on communidade and other lands way back in 1999 but it failed to implement it. It is time the state government takes strong steps to deal with illegal constructions to enforce regulation.
While regional plan provides the roadmap for land planning and development, the absence of it is not the only reason why illegal constructions were built. There are other reasons: applicants seeking legal permission are made to run from pillar to post to get necessary approvals from the competent authorities. The hassles faced by the public and the corruption involved in getting the approvals compel people to either drop their plan for construction or extension to construction or to build it illegally. Failure of the state government to take action against the persons who built illegal structures over the decades has made other people bolder in disregarding the rules and undertaking illegal constructions. Another reason is the hassles an honest government official faces if he or she takes action against anyone for illegal constructions. The violator usually finds a political protector – the sarpanch or the MLA or minister – and frustrates the official’s effort. The government has to give officials a free hand to deal with illegal constructions. It would be wrong on the part of the government to take action only against the illegal structures that have come up between 2005 and 2017. Such selective period action could be ultra vires inviting long-drawn court battles. If the government passes a law to draw a cutoff year it would be another matter. The illegal constructions before that cutoff year could be regularized in accordance with the law.
That the government has not been able to deal with the rising number of illegal constructions shows that there was no political will or that politicians wanted to use the threat of action against illegal constructions as Damocles’ sword on the violations to win votes. Rather than making a piecemeal approach, the government should work out a comprehensive policy to deal with illegal constructions. The policy should be based on the regional plan and must clearly define what types of illegal constructions could be regularized and what types could not be. The sooner the government does it, the better. For, after the illegal constructions such as houses are regularized, the government and local bodies would be able to get additional revenue. The owners of long-standing illegal houses should be given the option of shifting their tenements to approved land elsewhere so that they do not lose a roof over their heads. As regularisation would be based on the regional plan, the government must make every effort to make sure it is drafted and approved at the earliest. The Town and Country Planning Minister should take the initiative in this regard if his statement on illegal constructions has to carry any meaning in real terms.