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‘Land’ing in a controversy

Monday, February 15, 2016
By Prashant Hamine

THESE days you 'Land' in a controversy if you are not familiar with the Land Revenue Code or Land Policy. A land allotment policy of 1976 formulated during previous Congress regime that granted government lands at throwaway prices to public charitable trusts, institutions and artists has now become a huge albatross hanging down the neck of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government. The slew of policy decisions on changing purpose of land use from Agriculture to Non-Agriculture (NA) purposes of late are more of stop-gap arrangement rather than making an effort to address long term policy issues.

Of late, land policy has been amended, bended as it would to suit the rulers of the day. The most visible examples of them have been that of terms like Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ), Floor Space Index (FSI) and Development Control Rights (DCR). In all the cases newer phrases and amendments are being added only to create more confusion. The last attempt to amend or streamline the Revenue system developed during the British Raj was made during the tenure of previous Congress regime by then Minister for Industries Narayan Rane. Terms like 'Kul Kayda, Gunthewari, Enami' or 'Watani' lands are still in vogue leading to multiple layers of confusion and legal tangles.

Several regime changes in the intervening period, a decision that took almost 20 years to fructify and an out-dated policy decision is what has brought BJP actor MP Hema Malini in the news. Equally bizarre is the case of redevelopment of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi (during the reign of NCPs then PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal) where a plot in Andheri meant for Regional Transport Office (RTO) was allowed to be developed in lieu of the Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi.

The change in the purpose of the land allotted to Associate Journals Limited (AJL) in Bandra is another glaring example how laws have been twisted, amended to suit political goals. The Adarsh case is also another example of how land user change has led to generation of yet another skyscraper of a controversy. The more recent flash point is the controversial 2031 Development Plan for Mumbai prepared by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) where land reservations in some cases were missing, in others reservations were made over existing structures or non-existing structures. Another contentious policy has been the Open Space policy of the BMC.

Now, the government is giving excuse of boosting industrialisation and development of the state and hence it is bringing amendments to laws relating to land and revenue. A consensus on the most controversial Land Acquisition policy eludes as regime changes have led to reversal of roles leading to the continuation of the deadlock on an issue that has stymied development in some cases. Lack of transparency, uniformity in laws and the powerful Revenue officer who often makes seasoned politicians weary of the power that his pen commands. Because, one deliberate oversight in an order by him can send you on an never ending wild goose chase.

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