Land use policy for the country on anvil

Rural development ministry revives two-decade old plan to demarcate the country according to land use to avert conflicts

 
By Richard Mahapatra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

People of Mundra's coast protest allotment of their pasture land for SEZ  (Courtesy: MASS, Gujarat)

The Union ministry of rural development is moving a policy to demarcate the country according to land use patterns. It involves creating inviolate agricultural and ecological zones. In July, the department of land resources under the ministry released a draft of a national land utilisation policy.  By September, the draft will be finalised.

This comes at a time when the government got the Right to Fair Compensation and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill (or the Land Acquisition Bill) approved in the Lok Sabha on August 29. Citing shrinking land base for competing uses and thus increasing conflicts, the policy will soon be open for comments from states and public in general. It is after 24 years such an attempt is being made.

According to the draft policy, the country will be divided into several land use zones based on predominant land use. And each zone will have development plans according to this land use pattern. So, there will be no direct conflict over land by various users. This is to avoid the increasing diversion of agricultural land for other uses. According to the policy objectives, the new zones will demarcate areas for respective areas while protecting predominant uses. Thus an agricultural area will not be opened up for industrial land acquisition or activities.

“Competing and conflicting land uses are a major concern,” says the policy draft in its preamble. Giving examples of the land acquisition for special economic zones and other development projects, the policy argues that over a period of time the country has not been able to optimise land uses while triggering many conflicts. The draft policy says that a situation has come when for further development activities forest and agriculture lands have to be procured.

In 1988 the ministry of agriculture came out with a National land Use Policy Guideline and Action Points. This was the first such attempt to earmark areas according to land use and created penalty provision for violating land use. The then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, approved the plan. Somehow there was not much interest among the states to implement the new action points. It received a quiet burial. Interestingly, way back in the 1970s, sensing conflict over land uses, all states in the country created state land use boards with the chief minister as the head. There is no information on how many such boards now exist. The general perception is that all of them have been abolished.

Going by the new suggestions, the country will have six types of land use zones. They are: rural and agricultural, areas under transformation like semi-urban areas, urban areas, industrial areas, ecological areas and hazard-vulnerable areas. Each of these zones will have its own local and regional development plans. These plans will focus on increasing the productivity of the predominant land use. Within each zone, there will be further areas earmarked for targeted intervention. They are: protected, regulatory, reserved and guided development areas. The protected areas are the forest areas. Regulatory areas include the agricultural and other hazard-prone areas. These areas will be subjected to extensive restriction for non-agricultural activities.

The policy is not only a revival of an old attempt but it also suggests a mechanism to implement it that has failed in past. It suggests a state level land utilisation policy, followed by a two-year exercise to create land utilisation zones along with decision to how much land in each zone a state wants to use for what purpose. The policy has to evolve a long-term development plan for each zone. These are the same actions states were supposed to take 14 years ago.
 

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