Politicians are wild animals; they need to be kept in check

Updated: Oct 8 2006, 06:03am hrs
Nominated for the Best Parliamentarian in 1998, having created a storm in Parliament when the NDA was in power for the use of the word humungous, Jaipal Sudini Reddy, now Cabinet minister for urban development in the UPA government, is serving his fourth term as MP. Still best known as the face of the Third Front, having been its spokesman for several years, he is now of the view that he was chasing a mirage and there never can be a Third Front. A man of many sides, he also has a degree in journalism from Osmania University, Hyderabad. He dropped in at The Express office for lunch this week and fielded a wide array of questions from the team. Excerpts:

SHEKHAR GUPTA: What are the projects youre most enthused about

To tell you the truth, most of the projects were recently sanctioned. On December 3, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission was launched. Between December 3 and March, certain projects were sanctioned in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. There seems to be good progress, but none of them has been completed as yet.

MAITRYEE HANDIQUE: In which states is progress the best

Again, you see, the response is disproportionate. Its more from the advanced states Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra. Some of the states were going to polls West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu they could not avail of the last quarter of the last financial year. All of them are catching up now. In fact many state governments kept special officers in their Bhavans now to cash in on this opportunity.

SHEKHAR GUPTA: Has West Bengal been moving the fastest on urban reforms

They have reduced the stamp duty from 10% to 6%. Although they have registered all these reforms, I must say, even with regard to scrapping the urban land ceiling law, their Cabinet has set up a sub-committee to look into it. I shouldnt say this, but in fact the Congress-led government in Maharashtra has been slow. There is healthy competition among states. Even MPs are taking interest. But in regard to major cities, we are insisting on proper preparation of city development plan. A lot of problems have arisen in Delhi because the masterplans were not properly conceived. The city development plan will be the masterplan for each city. We are trying to ask them as to what is their overall vision. What is their long-term approach. The plans will be prepared by standard agencies but theyll be appraised by different institutions. And no city is given money unless the citys plan is appraised and approved. Basically, the urban land ceiling law has been counterproductive. It has been anti-poor and favourable to the broker.

SANTWANA BHATTACHARYA: Has any state government put in money

I am quite optimistic because they are able to see Im interacting, weve held mini-workshops, regional workshops, statewise workshops. Theyre getting sensitised its an entirely new scheme. And theyre able to see as to how geographical information system (GIS) can enable reforms, can enable them to realise higher revenue. It will be also hassle-free. It would not entail too much corruption. It will be implemented in every major city. The grants are meant for only schemes. Specific schemes. After submission of city development plans, they must submit detailed project reports of each case and each scheme will be assessed and a decision is taken.

ILA PATNAIK: The pace of urbanisation is such that it may soon be the case where cities would turn into self-sufficient units. Can cities approach you directly or only through state governments

City governments come through state governments. We cannot bypass state governments. But we are giving considerable autonomy to all the local bodies. We have the 74th Amendment to the Constitution which is in operation as part of which we have mayors and powers are enjoyed by standing committees. Mayors should have the same face as, say, the mayor of London. But I think we have some way to go because state governments are generally not enthusiastic about the idea. And cities are again growing at a phenomenal pace migration from rural areas to urban areas is to be seen to be believed. It is taking place at an incredible pace. The character of Delhi itself the social character of Delhi has undergone a massive change in the last 25 years. The character of each city is undergoing a change on account of this huge rural migration.

ILA PATNAIK: Do you ever visualise a day when there would be city governments, not state governments For example, a Mumbai city government, distinct from Maharashtra

That was the idea behind the 74th Amendment. While the 73rd Amendment was meant to cater to the autonomy of rural local bodies, the 74th Amendment was meant to confer autonomy on urban local bodies. The process is on. It will take some time. And we are constantly goading the state governments in this direction. We are entering into MoUs with each state government. There are milestones. Some before access to funds, some during the seven-year period. We are making no bones about it. We are incentivising reforms.

SANTWANA BHATTACHARYA: Have any state governments matched grants

So far only nine state government have come forward with city development plans and DPRs, I have sanctioned nearly 100 schemes already. Other state governments are still in the process of finalising these city development plans. And we are pursuing them. Its a question of raising the levels of awareness. And as you know, the ability of many governments in our country to avail of Central assistance is not uniform. There are some states which lag behind.

MAITRYEE HANDIQUE: Are there any political compulsions to sanction road projects in Andhra Pradesh

Not that road projects and flyovers cant be sanctioned. All these things can be sanctioned. I have given a direction. The limited money that we have should be used for such basic things as strong water drains, sewerage, drinking water and public transport. We must encourage public transport, I dont think at this rate we can afford personalised transport. Even those who have cars would not be able to cover the distance in their cars. Even if you go for a flyover in three years , it will not be adequate.

SANTWANA BHATTACHARYA: Have you made drainage and drinking water your priority because it doesnt involve a tussle with states on reforms

No. While I must say that certain states didnt agree to all the conditionalities to begin with. So to carry them with us, we said we shall only give sanctions to you in regard to drinking water and sewerage and underground drainage schemes. But thats not the case. There really are priorities. If I can give sanction to two projects to any city, it should be roads or drinking water.

SEEMA CHISHTI: You were the mascot for the Third Front for several years, and now you are in the Congress. How do you look at the past and now the prospect of a Third Front

I was always a Congressman. Im one of those antediluvian creatures who got elected on the two-bullock symbol. I won as an MLA on that symbol in 1969. And a few months after that the Congress party split and I won on the Congress ticket again. This time on a different symbol cow and calf in 1972. However in 1975, I felt very strongly about emergency. Indiraji knew me personally, she was fond of me. She called me up, but I was not reconciled to the Emergency. I left the Congress. And I spent major part of my career in the Third Front. Fact of the matter is I was comfortable with Third Front also because when I joined Congress Party in 1964, I had become a Nehruite. I had read all his works. So I remained a Nehruite all these years I was a Nehruite when I was in the Third Front. But the Third Front was a mirage, which I chased for two decades and more. Until even the mirage vanished. There was no mirage to chase either. I was very comfortable also as the spokesman of the Third Front. I have the dubious but unique advantage of having been the principle spokesman of both Janata tradition and Congress tradition. But I was batting for the same kind of ideology. I have been a Centrist all along. And I have been a Nehruite all along and of course I keep reconstructing my Nehruism as anybody should. As even Nehru would have, as any open-minded person would. We cant stop the waves. Even in Third Front, I was comfortable with everybody outside the Congress party. I felt so unhappy about the Emergency that I continued to struggle. And please remember the Third Front didnt exist in Andhra Pradesh. Even Janata party didnt exist. I was a loner in Andhra Pradesh, but I was able to manage. But today, one can see that Third Front never existed before nor can it ever emerge. Even in 1977, Janata Party had the BJP as a partner. In 1989, when VP Singh became PM, BJP was supporting it from outside. In 1996-97, I was extremely comfortable as the chief spokesman for the Congress because I had a lot of freedom and I was doing my favourite job that was defending the cause of secularism.

PAMELA PHILIPOSE: You said freedom. But how free are you in the Congress as a single family decides things

I did not leave Congress because of the domination of the family. But because I felt too strongly about the Emergency. Secondly, look at political parties: Every party is dominated by a family. But every party needs a centre of gravity, what I found in those 20 years of my Janata existence was the need of center of gravity. There must be centre of gravity to hold these forces together. Politicians are wild animals, they need to be kept in check. In real world, I dont want to mention parties here because I would be treading on too many toes, there are hardly parties that are not dominated by a family. I dont know if BJP is a party, its half a party because it draws its sustenance from the RSS. CPM is a different type of fish. I dont think we can pigeonhole it so easily. As for freedom in the Congress Party, I think there is more than adequate intellectual freedom. You can express your views within a party. Most of the Congressmen are Centrist in their outlook. There could be minor differences but freedom cannot mean anarchy either. One of the reasons that the Janata tradition could not be held together was it was more anarchic than democratic.

AMAN SHARMA: In the matter of the Delhi sealing drive, why is the government supporting something that is not authorised

I dont think the courts and the government have been trying to confront each other. Courts have done well by drawing everybodys attention including that of the government to the huge gap that developed between the actual masterplan and the ground realities. The Masterplan 2021 is not much more than variations to the earlier masterplan. The Delhi Development Authority could create space for only 20% of the commercial needs. DDA which was to regulate and plan has taken the task of building also. It has neither been able to perform its role, nor has it been able to allow the market perform the role. Anyway, no monopoly organisation can play such a huge role as required in Delhi. To set things right, we have made some transition. It is not as though we are differing from the courts. We are trying to appreciate their intervention but not at the same pace perhaps that the courts would want us to do.

GAUTAM CHIKERMANE: The law may be right or wrong, but it cannot be broken. Breaking the law is a crime. Why is the government siding with those who have broken the law

Look, you must consider that if millions of people are on the wrong side of the law, there must be something wrong with the law or the enforcing agencies. When we try to regularise, well impose some penalty. Those who did not violate the law will also be able to avail of these facilities. Its not as though they wont be punished at all. We didnt allow planned development in delhi. Im admitting this. We learn from our mistakes. Im not blaming anybody. We didnt know any better at that time. Im now speaking with the wisdom of hindsight 17 executive engineers were dismissed in the midst of the controversy . Many others have been given show-cause notices. We have also filed a criminal complaint against them over disproportionate assets. The only way to check corruption is to reduce the number of control points. To minimise the area of discretion.

SUMATI MAHARISHI: In all the controversy generated by the sealing drive, do you not wish you were back to being I&B Minister, and not Urban Development Minister

I am grateful to the Congress and the Prime Minister for giving me this portfolio. I had handled I&B earlier in 1997. Rightly or wrongly, Im considered the author of Prasar Bharati. I started the FM radio regime, downlinking, uplinking guidelines, but I was getting typecast as either spokesperson or I&B minister so I thought Ill go beyond this pigeonholing. Im happy about my record as I&B minister but Im not nostalgic.

COOMI KAPOOR: Were you embarrassed about Prasar Bharti losing its relevance

Many bureaucrats told me that autonomy for Prasar Bharti was irrelevant as there are so many private channels, let it be run by government. Im not saying its absolutely autonomous. Autonomy is not a one-off thing. It is an institution which has to grow. Im sure it enjoys more autonomy today than it did in 1997. Secondly, when I took over this time as I&B minister, I did not disturb the Board. When NDA took over in 1998, they went in for a lot of changes. MV Kamath is not exactly a friend of the Congress party. He writes critical articles in such wonderful papers like the Organiser. Even so I didnt touch him because for me, his continuance had symbolic value. Such institutions do not grow in a short time frame. Im sure Prasar Bharati will evolve into a very good institution. We cant do without it.

G ANNANTHAKRISHNAN: On the sealing in Delhi, do you feel bad about the way the case was handled by legal officers in court

Our law officers did a wonderful job. It is not correct for us to sit in judgement of their performance. We had our problems. Courts are naturally entitled to their perception. We are only trying to plead with the courts that we have these problems. It is not as though we are operating in different wavelengths. The courts and government are all aiming to improve conditions in Delhi.

PAMELA PHILIPOSE: Are you happy with the political competitiveness between the Congress and the BJP on this matter They appear to be on the same side on this one.

Apart from political competitiveness, which is as good as economic competitiveness, it only shows that all parties are guided by the huge numbers. You cant wish away the numbers. It doesnt mean we can surrender to them. We should modulate. Therefore we go in for certain amendments to the law. And certain things are not being permitted despite our level approach. That will be dealt with mercilessly. There are monitoring groups to see that those who have been left out are dealt with.