[Mpisgmedia] UPA's Common Minimum Programme

The draft Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the United
Progressive Alliance (UPA) [1], except on few points,
does not look significantly different from the NDA's
agenda. Urban issues, for instance, remain where they
were before Election2004 -- rapidly on course to
utterly unsustainable cities and emaciated professions
and institutions.


The UPA, like the NDA, seems not to appreciate that it
is mandated to represent people within the framework
of the Constitution, not to serve them with cut-paste
ideas for reform with no accountability about failures
to enforce entitlements under sovereign law and no
assurance about reforms protecting and improving these
rather than offering just any old 'humane face'. The
CMP makes nearly no reference to existing rights to
suggest that the best that most are entitled to is
some safety net and the logic of all else is too
compelling to be questioned.

It is striking that of the few references in the CMP
to law, most are about 'violence management' [2]. The
only other laws the UPA specifically commits itself to
enforcing are minimum wage laws for farm Labour
[section on Agriculture] and Right to Information Act
[Administrative Reforms]. Our recent right to
information, widely touted as some substitute for
accountability, is the only right acknowledged as
such. In only one other place is the word 'right' used
-- "UPA will urge the state to make legislation for
conferring ownership rights in respect of minor forest
produce, including tendu leaves" [Social Justice]
(which section also says "Landless families will be
endowed with some land through proper implementation
of land ceiling and land redistribution legislation").

The preference for phrases like 'conferring ownership
rights', 'will be endowed with some land', etc, is
matched by references to wilful priorities [3]. The
CMP is premised on the assumption that "The people of
India have voted decisively ... for secular,
progressive forces, for parties wedded to the welfare
of ... weaker sections ... parties irrevocably
committed to the daily well-being of the common man".
Well within the ambit of (and almost incidental to)
exigencies of alliance politics, it goes on to
interpret secular, progressive, welfare and well-being
rather wilfully and fails to convince that the UPA
adds up to what the people voted for, especially since
it specifically commits itself to reversing only a few
of the measures of the NDA.

The only trend the UPA is clearly committed to reverse
is that of communalisation of education [section on
Education, Health]. On some others it is inclined to
less wholeheartedly pull back [4]. But it seems
committed to most of NDA's growth and welfare programs
and, thereby, to the dis-connect between the two that,
in effect, reduces the constitutional commitment to
growth with equity to development for a few and safety
net -- cast with or without humane face -- for most.
This is very marked in the view the CMP takes of urban


Urban development is not a separate section in the
CMP, nor are urban and rural issues clearly separated
in various sections. This is typical of most recent
so-called policy documents, significant because urban
planning and development law in India is strongly
focussed on equity (in space and time) and urban
reform so far has had to use sophisticated tactics to
get around it -- propaganda to deny and disparage the
law, systematic weakening of urban planning and
development institutions, privileging of enterprises
to take over urban discourse, etc. Without these the
growing wilful and unlawful dispossessions to spare
urban resources for wilful and unlawful development
for profit in disregard of equity / sustainability
imperatives would not be possible. The UPA seems
committed, or at least resigned, to these trends.

Those at risk of dispossession in cities include slum
dwellers, industries, and small / informal
establishments. Statutory city plans do -- or till
lately did -- earmark land for these. (The revised
Delhi Master Plan approved in 1990, for instance, sets
aside a fifth of the gross city area for them and
slums, non-conforming industries and informal shops
are nothing but Plan implementation backlog owing
primarily to alternative policies, projects, PIL, etc,
to downsize entitlements). In disregard of statutory
solutions the NDA government was pursuing some draft
national slum policy, a lately approved national
hawker policy and a peculiar policy for industries.
The UPA renews NDA's slum policy commitment to 'needs
of slum dwellers' and 'social housing' and 'urban
renewal' [section on Infrastructure] -- instruments
for maintaining land allocations status-quo to spare
land meant but not used for housing the poor. Like the
NDA, the UPA is inclined to consider only
'Infrastructure upgradation in major industrial
clusters' rather than priority allocation of space
meant for but not allocated to industries [Industry].
For informal trade, in lieu of half of planned
commercial space that Parliament approved in 1990 for
Delhi, the UPA favours the NDA policy prescription for
merely technical, market and credit support,
regressing further to propose a Commission to make
recommendations for even these [Employment].

The UPA is thus inclined to continue the NDA program
of sparing urban land meant for use of citizens. This
is an imperative of privatisation / FDI / IT / Tourism
model of economic development (to which, the UPA is
committed) that requires city space for its
paraphernalia as well as the paraphernalia of
enterprises required for propaganda to directly or
indirectly justify such land use. It is no harmless
omission that the only reference in the CMP to land
redistribution legislation [section on Social Justice]
is made only for tribal communities and not in context
of robust urban law or that the commitment to
universalising education [Education, Health] does not,
like the NDA's three drafts of the education Bill,
refer to possibilities arising from urban planning
law. The safety net approach for the majority
requires, first of all, that their problems be
sustained rather than solved, and the CMP goes as far
as viewing even the reconciling of development and
environmental concerns as a safety net issue, such as
for tribal communities dependent on forests [Social
Justice], rather than as a carrying capacity issue,
since dealing with it from that perspective would
require pulling back on, say, MNC tourism plant in
coast and hill towns, IT / BPO SEZ in protected areas
turned prime (such as ridge and riverbed in Delhi),
excessive up-market housing and malls, etc, in
environmentally critical areas (such as the
CGWA-notified Gurgaon), etc.

"The UPA government believes that ... there must be a
direct link between privatisation and social needs
like, for example, the use of privatisation revenues
for designated social sector schemes" [section on
Public Sector]. Such belief is an imperative of the
freewheeling model of urban development that the NDA
has been aggressively promoting. Prior (lawful) models
relied on spreading development costs over different
classes of uses and users to generate cross subsidies.
This required recovering cross subsidy components from
remunerative development and investing the same in
non-remunerative development. By abandoning the latter
to some unrelated 'social sector schemes' we get a
model of profiteering -- either by private sector not
paying the cross subsidy component (under promotional
policies to which UPA is committed, such as through
'all support' to certain service enterprises
[Employment]) or by authorities investing the same in
remunerative projects (nowadays often public-private
transport projects, which also the UPA 'will actively
encourage and foster' [Infrastructure]) or by private
infrastructure development outfits neglecting
non-remunerative responsibility (as in privatisation
of power distribution, to which also UPA is committed
[Infrastructure]). Obviously, resources for 'social
sector' must then come from loans or from selling
public assets. Furthermore, most 'social sector
schemes' also involve public-private partnerships
(such as so-called free housing through slum
redevelopment by builders / builder-NGOs, which the
NDA policified and the UPA is committed to continue
[Infrastructure]), which really amounts to

The freewheeling urban development model is not
sustainable even in market terms and can make
development authorities bankrupt. In Delhi DDA is now
unable to sell its excessive up-market housing and
commercial stock and is driven to make money by
(unlawfully) auctioning freehold land for flexible use
to private builders or out of regularising misuse that
it is mandated to check. It was implicated in a major
scam last year, as were other authorities, notably in
the Taj Corridor case. Other institutions are also
driven to abandon their mandates. HUDCO has shown
profits this year only after winding up its low-cost
construction development activities and after its
research and training wing abandoned research and
reduced itself to an outfit for anyone prepared to pay
for its training or policy endorsement services. Its
R&T boss was suspended last year and a more serious
HUDCO scam also blew up briefly in Karnataka. NIUA
seems to be acting as a conduit for DfID, USAID and
multi-national NGOs. The School of Planning and
Architecture was lately subjected to an inquiry that
found gross mismanagement and malpractices. Across the
country the crisis of urban professions is deepening
and professional institutes are not able to respond.
As a system, urban institutions and professions are
turning sick. The UPA, like the NDA, is unmoved since
this serves the broader reforms agenda well. That UPA
will ensure that professional education institutions
'retain their autonomy' and 'nobody is denied
professional education because he or she is poor'
[section on Education, Health] may well translate to
hands-off-to-let-them-die and

The foregoing are just quick impressions and the CMP
is just draft (the final version is to be released on
27th) but the basis of both is old and even the
encounter is not first. A year ago this perspective
was placed before the leader of the UPA, then leader
of opposition, as well as Parliamentary Standing
Committee for Urban Development after it invited
public views after the DDA scam. Because urban law is
strong it can be upheld from treasury as well as
opposition benches. It was not.

The bottom line on urban issues is that there is
massive open loot of urban land and diversion of other
urban resources and no solutions are possible till
that is stopped and entitlements are restored. Any
government not inclined to stop loot and safeguard
rights of citizens can only make democracy sick and,
in the ultimate analysis, it matters little if it does
so with so-called humane face or in so-called fascist

Gita Dewan Verma / Planner / 25.05.04


[1] text posted at

[2] "to enforce the law without fear or favour to deal
with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements who
seek to disturb social amity and peace" [first
governing principle], enforcing Protection of Places
of Worship Act 1992 and enacting 'a comprehensive law
against communal violence' [section on Welfare of
Minorities], repeal of POTA and enforcement of
anti-terrorism laws [Defence, Internal Security] and
Naxalite violence being 'not merely a law and order
problem but a far deeper socio-economic issue' [Social

[3] For instance, 'to put an end to the acute drinking
water shortage in cities' we will get desalination
plants starting with Chennai [section on Water
Resources]. The dialogue 'on how best the private
sector can fulfill aspirations' is only for scheduled
caste and scheduled tribe youth [Social Justice]. In
context also of minor irrigation, R&R, reconciling
economic growth and environment conservation, etc,
only / specifically tribal communities are mentioned
[Social Justice].

[4] While it will 'devolve full managerial and
commercial autonomy to successful, profit-making' PSUs
[Public Sector] and 'ensure that all institutions of
higher learning and professional education retain
their autonomy' [Education, Health], there is no
mention of damage control in institutions turning
sick, including on account of infringement or
misunderstanding or abuse of autonomy. While it
'rejects the idea of automatic hire and fire', it
recognizes industry's need for flexibility and leaves
specific proposals to later [Labour]. While it will
retain navratna PSUs, for the rest it makes only some
convoluted remarks [Public Sector].

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