THERE is a Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Shodh Sansthan in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, situated in the midst of the city. This Shodh Sansthan was established in the year 2005-06 with the assigned purpose of primary research to remove obstacles hindering the successful completion of social, economic and educational programmes, for incorporating a practical approach in development works for minorities, formulating projects for socio-economic development of Muslim communities, and so on.
The Shodh Sansthan was provided 1,500 square yards of land near Rampur tehsil by transferring land from the jail department. The state government provided financial assistance for buildings and infrastructure of this Shodh Sansthan in various years and till date Rs. 983 lakh has been spent on this Shodh Sansthan and a beautiful building has come up.
This was to be followed by creation of various posts like that of director, deputy director and others in the Sansthan. At this stage, a private trust, the Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Trust, presented a proposal before the state government, requesting that the Shodh Sansthan be assigned to it on lease. Azam Khan, Minorities Welfare Minister, to which the Shodh Sansthan belongs, is also said to be the president of this private trust.
As per information obtained through reliable sources, this proposal was vehemently opposed by the concerned officials who specifically quoted three cases related with land leases given by different state governments-that to Kushabhau Thakre Memorial Trust in Bhopal, that of land given to cricketer Sourav Ganguly in Kolkata and that of land given to filmmaker Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods in Mumbai-to say that such transfer of land in any manner, lease, sale or whatever, without adopting a transparent and well-defined process would be against the law and would also be against the larger public interest.
It was stated that in all the above three cases, the Supreme Court has adopted a consistent legal principle and it cancelled the various land deeds, including lease deeds granted to various parties in non-transparent and clandestine manner, declaring them as cases of favouritism and nepotism while coming down heavily against any such act of arbitrary allotment of land or grant of state largesse.
In the Ganguly case, where the West Bengal government allotted one plot to him through a formal process of open tender and later changed it to a different plot, which was of much bigger size, in a different area, without adopting any rigorous process, the Supreme Court said: “It has been repeatedly held by this court that in the matter of granting largesse, the Government has to act fairly and without even any semblance of discrimination. Law on this subject has been very clearly laid down by this court in the case of Ramana Dayaram Shetty v. International Airport Authority of India and Others reported in 1979 (3) SCC 489.” It also said: “Admittedly, no advertisement was issued and no offer was sought to be obtained from the members of the public in respect of the new allotment of a much bigger plot. In view of the principles laid down by this court, the impugned allotment is clearly in breach of the principles of Article 14 explained by this court in Ramana (supra), Kasturi Lal (supra) and other subsequent cases.”
In the Thakre case, the Supreme Court said: “Every action/decision of the State and/or its agencies/instrumentalities to give largesse or confer benefit must be founded on a sound, transparent, discernible and well defined policy, which shall be made known to the public by publication in the Official Gazette and other recognised modes of publicity and such policy must be implemented/executed by adopting a non- discriminatory or non-arbitrary method irrespective of the class or category of persons proposed to be benefited by the policy. The distribution of largesse like allotment of land, grant of quota, permit licence, etc., by the State and its agencies/instrumentalities should always be done in a fair and equitable manner and the element of favouritism or nepotism shall not influence the exercise of discretion, if any, conferred upon the particular functionary or officer of the State.”
The same view was taken by the Bombay High Court in the Ghai case where a huge area of land at Goregaon, a suburb of Mumbai, was granted by the government of Maharashtra to him. When Ghai challenged this in the Supreme Court, it was dismissed on the first date of hearing by a single word: “Dismissed.”
An additional point raised here, unlike the above three cases, is regarding conflict of interest because the Jauhar Trust is said to have Azam Khan as its president and at the same time, as Minister he is also the departmental head of the Minorities Welfare Ministry to which the Shodh Sansthan belongs.
On November 20, 2014, a decision was made by the Cabinet-through-circulation that the Shodh Sansthan would be given to the Jauhar Trust. Soon after, the Minorities Welfare department recommended a nominal lease amount of Rs. 100 per year for the state government to grant the land, building and infrastructure of the Shodh Sansthan to the Jauhar Trust, for a period of 30 years. This was accepted by the Jauhar Trust.
From the above facts, it is clear that the government has every right to distribute largesse but it must be through fair, transparent and equitable measures.
THERE can be many other private bodies which might be offering much more lease amount, with promise of better service. For instance one such private body, People’s Forum, has offered a thousand times annual rent of Rs. 1 lakh instead of the mere Rs. 100 being paid by the Jauhar Trust. Not only is it offering more rent, but also claims it would serve the people better than the Jauhar Trust by providing better and cheaper education to Rampur’s girls. Taking into consideration an annual gain of Rs. 99,900 to the public exchequer and better social service being offered through the People’s Forum offer, I have requested the minister, Azam Khan, to consider the offer in the larger public interest.
At the same time, there could be many others who might be offering even more lease rent and better service and definitely larger public interest which seems to entail that only the best of these offers be given priority while assigning the Shodh Sansthan.
This case shows that there is still a long way for transparency and accountability to go and grow in our country and people in power often tend to forget these twin principles when it comes to their own interest. The second equally important fact that emerges here is that there is a need for massive public mobilisation and people’s awareness to raise any anomaly or inconsistency that emerges in public policies.
Amitabh Thakur, an IPS officer from UP, is also working for transparency in governance. The views expressed are personal.