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Saturday, July 5, 2003

According to statistics released by the state police the overall number of crimes in AP at 1.31 lakh in 2002 showed a marginal increase from the previous year’s total of 1.17 lakh. The report also revealed that the number of murders at 2376 showed a marginal decline from 2428 in the previous year. Hyderabad reported 110 murders whereas Rangareddy district topped the list with 181.

Just in the past week, the city was witness to some gruesome murders committed in mafia style in broad daylight. It was reported that all of them were related to land disputes. The police statistics also reveal that one in 20 murders committed in the metropolitan area are related to land disputes. Last week, we also witnessed the spectacle of a city based senior politician being arrested for alleged land grabbing!

The fact of the matter is owing to the skewed land policies of the state which resulted in a sharp increase in urban property values, mafia have come to play a major role in controlling vast chunks of vacant land in the metropolitan area. The unscrupulous politician and corrupt bureaucrat have joined hands with the mafia in appropriating valuable property often involving crores of rupees. As the stakes get higher, the tactics employed by the interested parties also tend to get nastier as evidenced by the recent gangster-style gruesome murders.

There are a few factors which are contributing to this dismal state of affairs: obsolete urban land ceiling laws, absence of a proper land survey to delineate property boundaries and establish clear titles and off course general failure of rule of law (both in terms of policing and justice delivery) and governance.

Unless corrective steps are taken to address these critical issues, I am afraid Hyderabad will soon develop a reputation as a crime-infested city, which will lead to disastrous consequences. Once that happens, people will be afraid to invest in the city, which will in turn lead to a general decline in the economy with its resultant urban decay. Risk-taking and enterprise can flourish only when the investor can be confident that the fruits of his labour will be enjoyed by him. If your property or money is appropriated by the neighbourhood crook or goonda, and if you have no recourse to an effective redressal mechanism, you will not venture to take any risk. All capital will then be accumulated only by the criminals and corrupt men. That is the exact situation prevailing in many parts of India. Within our own state, we have examples of Rayalaseema and parts of Telangana which are deemed to be ungovernable and as a result you see very few entrepreneurs daring to invest in those areas and the resultant backwardness is there for everyone to see. Outside AP, Bihar, parts of western UP have a similar reputation.

Just a decade ago, even New York city used to have a similar reputation for crime. In the early nineties, the city was notorious as the crime capital of USA and businesses were leaving the city in droves. When Mayor Guiliani took power, he has ruthlessly clamped down on the mafia activities, improved the governance of the city and was able to attract significant investments. In the last decade New York grew at a stupendous pace and contributed almost 10 % of the national GDP. It clearly demonstrates the importance of rule of law and good governance for economic growth.

The state should take urgent measures to repeal the useless land ceiling laws, undertake a comprehensive land survey, and establish clear property titles. Above all the state should ruthlessly clamp down on the mafia involved in land grabbing and other criminal elements. Only then will the investor confidence be restored and the state can grow and prosper.

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