Lutyens’ Delhi was a symbol of the power and control that the British rulers exercised over the colonized people of India. In 1947, when the government of India changed hands from the British to Indians, Lutyens’ Delhi should have been returned to the people. The functionaries of the government of independent India should have demonstrated their commitment to the cause of nation building by living modestly, as befitting a nation that could not afford to continue to fund the extravagant lifestyles that the British enjoyed at the expense of the poor of India. But they did not do that.
How much do Indians pay for those who rule over them is hard to estimate. Just Lutyens’ Delhi has immense wealth locked up, wealth that could — and must be — given back to Indians. There are hundreds of bungalows sitting on prime lots of more than an acre each. Each bungalow occupies land valued at several hundred crores. A conservative estimate of the land value comes to around Rs 5 lakh crores.
Here is what I propose that Prime Minister Modi should do to stop this waste of public assets (and free up the locked-up wealth), and at the same time provide for the financial support to the poor during this crisis.
First, the politicians and babus must vacate their publicly provided, free accommodations in Lutyens’ Delhi. We ordinary citizens have to pay rent or buy our own houses. Why should the netas and babus get it for free? Like the rest of us, they should get a salary, and rent or buy the housing they want and can afford. This can be accomplished in a month. Remember, demonetisation was done overnight. The Prime Minister should give them all a month’s notice and demonstrate to the world that he means to correct the wrongs of the British Raj and that India is not going to tolerate it anymore.
The second part is to sell off the public property that is Lutyens’ Delhi. Public property, by definition, belongs to the public, and the public has the right to use it as and when they need to. The proceeds of the sale of Lutyens’ Delhi rightfully belong to all Indians equally, rich and poor. But because the economic effects of the pandemic disproportionately falls on the poor, I propose that the 15 crore families (about 60% of the population) who have been hardest hit be the first to receive their share of the money raised by the sale.
Each of the 15 crore families should receive Rs 30,000 in the next few months. It is not a large amount but it will help them enormously to get back on their feet. With the money, their demand for goods and services will pull industry to increase production, which in turn will generate jobs. While helping the poor, it will give a much-needed boost to the economy without damaging side-effects.
I call this proposal “Prime Minister’s Lutyens’ Delhi Liquidation Relief Yojana” or LLR Yojana. It is not a “universal basic income” (UBI) scheme since it is limited to the poor, and limited to the desperate time India faces now. For the longer term, I have proposed the Dhan Vapasi model, which looks a little like a UBI scheme but is actually a larger idea to bring all public assets currently under-utilised into production. That will increase jobs, incomes, and help create the infrastructure for boosting economic growth.