THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Nearly 1,300 acres of government land in the capital district worth over Rs 1000 crore has been handed over to private individuals, religious and communal organisations, commercial enterprises and charitable institutions at subsidized rates of rent, or for token leases fixed half a century ago that are laughable now, or even for free. None of these leases have been revised. Even the relatively new leases, the ones fixed after 2010, do not reflect a fraction of even the fair value (forget the market value) of these lands. In many cases, where the lease period had expired, the land has not been taken back either.
Parcels of land in some of the most desired locations in the capital - Sast-hamangalam, Kowdiar, Vanchiyoor, Peroorkada, Kadakampally - that could command anywhere between Rs 5 to Rs 10 lakh a cent, were given virtually gratis. Nearly 20 acres were granted to the Carmelite nuns in 1964 for establishing the All Saints College. The lease fixed then was Rs 25 a year, and this continues. Other religious and communal groups, too, were kept in good humour. Some 20 cents were handed over to SNDP in Pettah for nothing, for what has been termed as “philosophical activities”.
The NSS was also given 12 cents in Vanchiyoor for the setting up of a ‘karayogam’, again for nothing. Nearby, YMCA was granted 78 cents in 1999, seemingly for free because no rent has been specified. In fact, in a number of cases, the rent has not been specified. For instance, 20 cents of land has been granted to Indian Airlines for a 99-year lease from 1966 at a rent that has not been prescribed. “Offering a piece of land at unspecified rent to conduct a school is understandable but for a commercial undertaking like Indian Airlines it makes for bad economics,” a top Finance Department official said.
Though the state is starved for cash, no attempt has been made to at least rectify some impractically low rates. Pettah Vanitha Club, for instance, was given 29 cents in 1958 for 12 years. Not only has the land not been recovered in 1970, the year the lease expired, but the rent of 6.89 paise that was fixed half a century ago remains untouched even though the amount has now shrunk to an embarrassingly low value.
What’s more, the Club people, even if they want to make the payment, cannot do so because lower currencies like 5 and 10 and 25 paise have long become history. “The non-revision of rent comes across as so ludicrous that if at all the custodian wants to make the payment, he has to wait for eight years so that the cumulative amount comes to around 50 paise, the lowest currency that exists now,” the official said. Even land parcels parted in posh areas like Kowdiar were given out for a pittance, say Rs 12,000 a year for 30 years or Rs 100 a cent for 50 years.