Activists say new provision in land revenue Act protects neither farmers nor agriculture
In order to provide a more transparent process for converting agricultural land to other uses like residential and commercial, the Rajasthan housing and urban development department is all set to amend the state's land revenue Act in the forthcoming budget session. Government officials say the new amended Act will ensure systematic development and leave little scope for corruption.
To this end, the department proposes to introduce an amended clause 90 A in place of the controversial and recently repealed clause 90B of the Rajasthan Land Revenue Act of 1952. Till now 90A was used for land use change only in rural areas. The amended clause 90A, once notified, will be used for all land conversions—rural as well as urban. The contentious clause 90B was introduced in June 1999 and was meant to legalise illegal land conversions that had taken place till then. But the clause was was continuously being misused to regularise unauthorised construction and bred corruption. The Rajasthan High Court stayed the operation of the clause in May 2011. Consequently, the state Cabinet, on February 1, announced the introduction of the amended clause 90A.
P K Deb additional chief secretary for Urban Development and Housing (UDH) says the whole process of land conversion will change with 90A, which will also come with a fresh set of rules. “Clause 90A contains special provisions that 90B did not have; the latter did not even fit in with the state's 2025 master-plan. The new provisions will ensure transparency, thereby reducing corruption, which is the highest in land conversion cases,” he adds. Deb adds that changes like the “mandatory following of the master plan under 90A will make all the difference in future land conversions in the state.”
Deb says the amended clause would imply automatic conversion as land use change will only be approved if the change is in sync with the sectoral and zonal plans under the master plan. This means development would now be systematic and planned, he adds. “This will ensure more people invest and will also lead to larger investments. I hope to be able to see a situation where someone sitting in their house can do land conversion instead of running from one office to the other,” says Deb.
Filip to developers
Builders have hailed the move, saying it would revive the real estate market and lead to easy availability of cheaper land. Vishwesh Vishvanathan of Nilayam Housing Private Limited says since the new provisions have not been finalised, he cannot comment on the details, but adds that the repeal of 90B and replacing it with new provisions can only be good news for builders. “For almost a year now numerous projects across Rajasthan have been suspended as land use change was stayed by the high court. Now finally we can move forward,” he says.
Since the court order of May 2011, land conversion in the state has been at a standstill. The stay order was given on a public interest petition filed by Jago Janata Society, a Jaipur non-profit. The petition states that 90B was introduced as a one-time programme to regularise unauthorised constructions on agricultural land but was being misused.
The society's counsel, Poonam Chand Bhandari, says the amendment is welcome news. “Even we want development, but not in an ad hoc manner. It needs to be planned and regularised, which the proposed provision seems to ensure,” he said.
Others like Amra Ram, CPI(M) MLA from Sikar are apprehensive of the new provisions. Ram says 90B was possibly the biggest scam in the history of Rajasthan and the new clause is not going to change that. “Just the name has changed but the main aim of the clause to convert agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes remains,” he says.
The government is attempting to portray the amended clause for land conversion as completely different by calling it user- and-technology-friendly. Some of the provisions made public so far include compliance with the 2025 master plan, single window clearance and power to the farmer to reclaim land if permission for conversion is denied by a municipal body (see 'Provisions under new clause 90A). Under 90B, any converted agricultural land would become the municipal body’s if it found a problem with the plan submitted by the owner of the land. This is cited as the main reason for the public outcry against the clause as it led to corrupt practices. (see 'Provision under 90 A').
Senior advocate AK Jain says the changes included in 90A are cosmetic and the clause is a virtual reproduction of 90B. Since 1999, Jain has fought many court cases for farmers whose lands were taken over by municipal authorities as per the provisions of 90B. While stating that the provisions of 90A are unclear, Jain says from what he has gathered the new clause is a virtual reproduction of the older clause—90B. “The changes are superficial because 90B provided for change of agricultural land and even now that is possible. He dismisses the claim that farmers can reclaim their land, stating the biggest flaw of 90B was that anyone who holds the power of attorney over a piece of land has the power to apply and change the land use. “This provides for the most exploitative and prevalent practice of the moneyed people buying land from farmers or getting the power of attorney and changing the land use. It has been done so far and there is no way of changing that.”
Problems with the new provisions are not limited to those with agricultural land near urban centres. The provisions while pushing for planned development have failed to address the concern of existing illegal colonies. For example, as per the 2025 master plan, approximately 250-275 colonies fall in the ecological zone. State government revenue will increase by regularizing the colonies, but areas that will come under non-residential sectors have no recourse as of now. These colonies are not developed as per the building planning committee (BPC) norms. UDH claims that the authorities are working on ways to address concerns arising from the unplanned development like houses with multiple land leases and colonies where more than 50 per cent area has been constructed on.
Once the proposed 90A clause gets legislative approval in the budget session, UDH is to draw up a set of rules to supplement the clause. Deb says in the best case scenario, land conversions under the new process can begin by March-end and in the worst case scenario by end of May 2012.