Noida land case: It’s time for some tough regulation
The current trend of urbanisation would expose land to more manipulation. Its market place needs closer monitoring.
The Land Acquisition Bill comes to the public domain this week. It’s a bit high on idealism and too generous with sympathy for the land losers. Some of the provisions look difficult to implement practically and some threaten to make land acquisition a long, cumbersome process. The new Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has virtually overruled the contrarian – and justified -- points raised by the government on the recommendations of the National Advisory Council on the bill.
But nobody is losing sleep over the negatives right now. As long as it is fair, puts the land owners and the buyers on a legally equal footing and ensures transparency in the negotiation and transaction processes, the bill is acceptable. The flaws could be ironed out in the process of debate over the next few weeks.
In another development, a division bench of the Allahabad High Court has referred the case of land acquisitions to a larger bench following contradictory verdicts in separate benches on the same issue -- while one upheld land acquisitions under the 'urgency clause', the other scrapped it.
Both these deal with broader issues. Not much thought has gone into fixing criminal culpability for the misuse of the law and official power so far. Since dubious land deals originate from the spurious intents of the nexus involving politicians, bureaucrats and real estate developers, a deterrent is called for.
In the Noida land case, Firstpost unearthed new facts that revealed that the builders had started marketing and booking properties even before being formally allotted the land. The land was sold by the Greater Noida Industrial Authority at low prices to builders, who sold it at high prices to the home-buyers.
Insiders say that over 73.35 lakh square metres (sq m) of land was sold off to builders for around Rs 7,300 crore. The builders then sold it to final buyers for around Rs 22,000 crore at market prices.
The newspapers have so far written on the travails of flat buyers in Noida Extension following the Allahabad High Court’s decision to order the restoration of the land to its former owners, but the real story lies in the skullduggery and conspiracy of Mayawati’s officials, who sold off hundreds of hectares of industrial land to a score of builders for constructing residential buildings without first changing the 'land use'. In other words, the land deals were struck without legally getting it designated as residential land, the report says.
Of course, it is always a well-orchestrated operation with the familiar modus operandi. All the end beneficiaries are in the know of the mechanics of the hoax. It is an elaborate con job with a thin veil of legitimacy. The courts are taking that veil off but there nothing as yet to stop the masterminds from colluding in more intelligent ways again.
This is a serious issue. Land is a high-value merchandise. The recent trends in urbanisation indicate that the demand for houses and land will stay northward-bound for quite long. This, in turn, will continue to put pressure on agricultural land as more of it would be converted to build housing stock. With more and more land in the market place, the transactions would require a strong regulatory framework.
The upcoming Land Acquisition Bill dwells a lot on farmers getting the best deal. It’s all right. But it should not be oblivious to the changing status of land and the possibility of criminal activity around it. The role of bureaucrats, their political masters and the unscrupulous developers would need tighter monitoring under the changed circumstances. The upcoming bill should make provision for that too, since land will always remain exposed to manipulations.
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