Mumbai Local

‘Ownership to tenants is the only solution’

Milind Deora  

It is important that rather than rejoicing over BJP saying that the government will not amend the Maharashtra Rent Act (1999) or the Congress claiming credit for forcing the government to backtrack, we must move towards a permanent solution before the government goes ahead with its intended agenda.

The draft Model Tenancy Act 2015, proposed by the Centre, is, in effect, a draft legislation for the states to legislate and adopt. It seeks to do away with the state Rent Act, and allow landlords to charge any rents that they like. The Maharashtra government has not rejected it. When the Congress was in power, we had rejected the amendments when the UPA government had made similar recommendations. But, the Maharashtra government has neither expressed their willingness to go with Model Tenancy Act or to reject it. Until they do, as a party, the Congress will not let this issue to die down. We will launch a massive agitation and awareness campaign which will make tenants across the state aware of this issue so that they can build pressure on their elected representatives.

My family has made several proposals to the State government over the years. If implemented with broad-based political support, we could have resolved this issue once and for all.

When Congress was in power for 15 years in Maharashtra, several officials and bureaucrats proposed such amendments to the Maharashtra Rent Act, but in every case, the State government defeated them.

We kept the debate and discussion moving towards finding a permanent resolution where both landlords and the tenants benefited, and one where there were no sudden and arbitrary hikes in rent.

However, since the BJP-led government came to power in 2014, there have been two attempts — first in May 2015 and now in January 2016 — to amend the Maharashtra Rent Act and allow a bonanza for builders and landlords, and throw commercial and residential tenants onto the streets.

The Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) had assured that his government will not amend the Act. At a personal level, I accepted this. But the statements from the Housing Minister Prakash Mehta — whether he was quoted correctly or incorrectly — were quite disturbing. The government remained silent for months when several political parties, including the BJP’s coalition partner Shiv Sena, protested against such amendments. Suddenly, they make an announcement. This is highly suspect.

When you have tried to amend the Act twice, it is clear that you are testing the waters and that your intent is to please certain vested interests.

The solution, which my father (the late Murli Deora) had proposed nearly three decades ago, was to enable tenants to become owners of their premises. The formula was that if the tenant pays 100 months’ rent in advance to the landlord, he or she can become the owner. This is pending before the courts. Today, the State needs to relook at the formula, and if the rent should be 100 months or more.

Rents need to be revised, but not in an arbitrary, knee jerk manner. When tenants have been passing on rights to the properties for decades or even generations, the only long-term, permanent solution is ownership. Otherwise, it will never get resolved.

It will take a lot of deliberation and discussion, but the State government needs to involve all stakeholders and move in that direction. At present, there is a no man’s land between the landlord and the tenants. Nobody repairs a building until it becomes dilapidated and then a builder swoops in to redevelop it. This is not a solution – ownership is.

The State government must demonstrate that amending the Rent Act is not its intent. It must reject the Model Tenancy Act, and move towards ownership. The old formula (100 months rent paid in advance) may or may not work; it is for the government to devise a new formula.

Milind Deora is a former Congress MP from South Mumbai and a former Union minister.

(As told to Satish Nandgaonkar)

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 9:38:38 AM |

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