Insights into Editorial: The problem of land hoarding January 10, 2018 Insights into Editorial: The problem of land hoarding Context: As per the details from to the Government Land Information System (GLIS), the government owns at least 13,505 square km. The government owns more land than it admits, large swathes of which are unused or underutilised. Government Land Information System (GLIS) In 2012, a committee headed by former finance secretary Vijay Kelkar had recommended monetising the government’s unutilised and under-utilised land to finance infrastructure projects in urban areas. It is a first-of-its-kind centralised database created by the ministry of electronics and information and monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The GLIS portal records total area, geo-positioning maps, and details such as ownership rights. According to the portal, the railways is the biggest landowner among Union ministries. The defence ministry, which owns a large share of the government’s land holding, has given only partial details citing security concerns. Though the track record of the railways, as well as other government agencies, on land asset management is incomplete, the move to make an inventory is a step towards better utilisation of government land. The problem of unused land What is worse is that a large proportion of government land lies unused. According to reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the 13 major port trusts have 14,728 hectares of land lying idle. These numbers are staggering and incomplete. They exclude several departments of the Centre and, more importantly, don’t take into account excess land holding by the States. Generates artificial scarcity of Land Due to excessive holdings, a precious but scarce economic resource remains unutilised. This generates an artificial scarcity of land for developmental purposes, and increases project costs and is one of the main drivers of skyrocketing urban real estate prices. Moreover, the allocation of unused land is rife with corruption. At the State level too, instances abound of public land being resold to private entities in dubious deals. Inadequate ownership records The CAG reports that none of the government agencies maintains adequate ownership records. For instance, the 13 major ports have failed to produce title deeds for as much as 45% of their land holdings. This makes squatters difficult to evict, and so they gravitate to these areas. The need of the hour Increase Floor Space Index Land is a crucial and often constraining input for production, not only in agriculture but also in secondary and tertiary sectors. The problem of land scarcity has been aggravated by grossly wasteful land use by government agencies. While stock of land is fixed, its supply as an input in production is not — it crucially depends on land use patterns. A useful measure of this is the floor space index (FSI), which is the total floor area built per square metre of land. The demand for land increases with both population density and economic growth. Therefore, to maintain efficiency, the FSI should also increase. By this token, the FSI should be the highest in major city centres, where the demand for space is highest, and it should taper off gradually towards the periphery. Apart from supplying space for economic activities, such an arrangement would also help maximise the gains from transport infrastructure. Increase investment per square metre The investment per square metre gradient of Indian cities is very low and haphazard. Increasing investment per square metre could solve the problem of wastage, generate employment and pull masses out of poverty, thereby aiding the economy to grow fast. Furnish details about usage of acquired land People have the right to know the size and use of land holding by government agencies which have been acquired by way of compensation. One of the solutions is that all the departments should identify their surplus land. Unfortunately, agencies seem to be loath to cooperate. Comprehensive inventory of land resources A comprehensive inventory of land resources and usage patterns for all government branches is the need of the hour. It should include information on the location of each property, its dimensions, the legal title, current and planned use, and any applicable land use restrictions. This will enable effective identification of suboptimal land use, as well as of the land that is surplus. Use of surplus land Surplus land should be utilised to meet the ever-growing demands for services, such as water and waste disposal, as well for government-sponsored housing and transportation projects. Monetising land for infrastructure is not only a noble goal but also necessary to optimise the use of resources for development. Land intended for future use can be rented out till such time it is needed, through a transparent auctioning process. This will not only buoy the public exchequer but prevent plots of land lying waste for years. Way Forward Given the importance of land for the country, we need to be creative in finding solutions. A public-government partnership seems to be the way out. We could take a cue from Britain. There, the government has pledged to provide details of ownership, location, and intended use for all properties. Citizens are invited to contest official land use and suggest alternatives under a ‘right to contest’. The Indian government should also agree to disclose its land use and release of excess land, the use of which it cannot justify.