Land acquisition may not be a zero sum game, two new studies show -Subhomoy Bhattacharjee
Land acquisition cases take on an average 20 years to navigate the courts
Within three years of the framing of the new land law by the Centre, as many as 280 cases have landed in the Supreme Court using the window the law provides to challenge pending acquisitions. Yet land switching from farming to industry need not be a zero sum game as two key studies on land released last week, show.
The numbers are big, when one compares them with the total land acquisition disputes under the older Land Acquisition Act, of 1894 in the same apex court. Between 1950 and 2016, there were 1,269 of them.
The data has been collected by a seminal project run by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) under its Land Rights Initiative. “If the above review is any sign of what we are to expect from the LARR Act… litigation will undoubtedly increase and the Court is likely to quash many more pending acquisitions,” writes the lead author for the project and fellow at CPR, Namita Wahi. LARR is the acronym for the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act that came into effect from January 1, 2014.
As the Make in India and Smart Cities programmes begin to translate into renewed demand for land, Wahi’s concerns are becoming real. Significantly, some of the fresh protests are affecting state-run companies, too. In West Bengal, PowerGrid Corporation has seen one of its land acquisitions for a sub-station come under dispute that has led to two deaths; in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, renewed exploration plans for gas by ONGC led to protests by farmers last month.
The challenge can be offset, according to Shubhashis Gangopadhyay, research director of India Development Foundation, if the government taps into its own land holdings. He is not referring to the land banks, for industries the various state governments own but those held unused, by their agencies. These are massive tracts, mostly held within municipal limits and so should be eminently attractive for industries. Releasing them can avoid demands fresh land acquisition.
As an example, he points to a study by him and Patricia Clarke Annez as a pilot inventory of public lands held by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. It indicates that 32 per cent of all developed and developable land in the town area — that is, excluding the road network, water bodies, and railway lines is held by the Corporation.
What the exercise revealed was gargantuan. It excluded all cemeteries, parks and gardens, heritage buildings, slums, land used for utilities, infrastructure lands and industrial estates. Again, the authors discarded unused lands already earmarked for public purposes from the valuation exercise. Yet after cutting all of them “the value of potentially marketable excess land is still substantial —ranging from a low of Rs 20,000 crores at jantri rates to Rs 55,000 crores at market rates”. This amount, the study India’s Public Lands: Responsive, Transparent, and Fiscally Responsible Asset Management points out is “between 84 per cent and 225 per cent of the about Rs 43,000 per capita needed for all urban infrastructure investments over the next twenty years in Ahmedabad”.
The data is the same for all cities, by and large, Gangopadhyay says. There are two advantages to quantifying and managing these tracts. It will free up fiscal resources for investments in other areas and it will make the governments able to provide land to companies without making fresh acquisitions.
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