Illegal and unauthorised construction, mostly of residential buildings, has been the bane of urban Maharashtra for decades. Mumbai and its surrounding regions led the list of such unauthorised construction. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ended the problem in a manner that none of his predecessors thought it fit to.

He declared last week that all illegal and unauthorised buildings constructed till December 31, 2015, would be regularised. A Bill to this effect would be tabled in the current session of the Assembly. It is likely to be passed. The brazen decision has far-reaching implications at the political level, for urban governance, and for the powerful clout of builders in the government. In essence, he has pardoned the transgressions and criminalities of builders with a simple one-time penalty.

Nearly two lakh unauthorised buildings across Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad are likely to benefit from this largesse, according to a conservative estimate of housing industry analysts. This number could well cross the five lakh mark, say others. Campa Cola compound case, which grabbed national attention last few years, may benefit too.

In one stroke, Fadnavis turned the illegal into legal. He endeared himself to the growing middle class which was the worst hit by the irregularities. He made the unscrupulous builders who committed those irregularities, indeed the builders’ lobby, happy and rich because they can atone for all sins by paying the one-time penalty. In the process, he further strengthened the politician-builder-bureaucrat nexus though he had called war on it while in the opposition. And he began the politicking in earnest for the forthcoming civic body elections in 10 cities including Mumbai, Thane and Pune, using the government machinery to put his political party ahead. Many achievements, indeed.

Fadnavis cited the concern for home owners and residents while announcing the decision but this is a sweet spin to a story that is essentially anti-urban and anti-governance. It could wreck quality of life in the cities. The civic system which was not obliged to provide services to these buildings will now have to. Plots which were ear-marked for gardens or schools will be lost forever. Cases against the offending builders which cost the exchequer would be meaningless. Urban planning effectively becomes a joke.

Owners and residents in illegally constructed buildings need relief but only if they were unaware about its illegality or the builder lied to and misled them. In many instances, the illegality is wilfully committed by all – builders, buyers-owners, bureaucrats responsible to keep out such illegalities.

If concern for people’s homes was the motivation, then Fadnavis will have to explain why the generosity is not extended to thousands of slums that were set up on or before December 31, 2015. In fact, the cut-off date for regularisation of slums stands at January 1, 2000 and all tenements erected after that can be demolished at officials’ whims and without notice. In a number of instances, even those legally protected by the cut-off date have been demolished.

If illegal buildings are deemed all right, then logically illegal slums should be too. What does it say about public opinion in the cities that there was none of the hue and cry usually associated with regularisation of slums when Fadnavis announced his decision to regularise illegal buildings? The civil society, open spaces activists, urban planners and others did not react with the horror and loud recriminations reserved for slum regularisations.

Fadnavis may take cover citing the Sitaram Kunte committee recommendations to regularise illegal constructions. It’s a cop-out. The recommendations were not binding on the government. Fadnavis, who cares about his clean image and non-partisan functioning style, has set a precedent that is more dreadful in principle and intent than any of his pro-builder predecessors did.

This decision could haunt Fadnavis in the years to come.