Corruption is... India

Embezzlement To Ownership: An Insight Into The Business Of Land

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Land corruption is so apparent that it’s as good as invisible.

We’ve been pulled and slushed in this cycle of land corruption, so much so, that it’s now a part of our daily life. How? Ever wondered where did the slums outside your office building come from? Why are rates for high-rises soaring while a 3-storeyed building in the same lane costs 2/3rd of it? Did your builder not tell you how many people had to be made homeless so you could live in a luxury apartment?

There are three ways to buy land: from a private party, from the government through allotment, or through auctions. At the time of purchase, corruption creeps into the second and third methods. And as long as we get the convenience of an expensive highway and a lavish office space, we may not care to question the most apparent corruption around us.

So here are 3 flawed government systems and how they lead to corruption of the most obvious form. And how it changes our economy.

 Red Tape to Land Embezzlement

Land acquisition and sale in India is a tedious process. There is no fair protocol, but a good motivation for larceny. For example, in Maharashtra, the country’s largest real estate market, a builder needs to produce about 60 approvals, 175 documents, and deal with 40 central, state and local departments to construct a property. Ideally, these clearances should not take more than three months, but in most states, it takes anywhere from one to four years.

In order to avoid such hassles and unprofitable delay; builders use their pull to illegally acquire land. Builders also befriend politicians/MLAs to gain inside information on critical infrastructure projects. For example, in Navi Mumbai, builders close to politicians reportedly bought huge portions of land from farmers, at nominal rates, before it was earmarked as a site for an airport. These portions were then sold to government developers at a price much higher than the market rate.

Another example of land-money embezzlement is the illegal sale of parking spaces. According to your house agreement, the total area i.e. super built-up area mentioned in the papers includes parking spaces. But most builders charge a heavy amount above the home price, in order to make extra bucks. This is an illegal transaction for which no stamped papers are signed.

And while we do realize that embezzlement is the only way around red-tapism, we rarely do consider the ill effects of land corruption of lower slab citizens.

Farmlands to commercial land

India is majorly an agricultural nation. Bullshit!

Politicians use their clout to convert farmlands into development area like SEZs, highways, ports and other infrastructure projects, industrial manufacturing, mining operations, etc. Once conversion from agricultural to urban use is permitted land prices can jump 20-fold, thus bringing in huge profits. And obviously, money trumps public good.

Moreover, states also transferred government property to commercial builders, as evidenced in Gujarat’s decision to allow the privatisation of village pastoral land, through a resolution, in 2005. Many governments have enacted laws such as The Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act in 1999. Under these acts, states have delimited forestland and wildlife sanctuaries, to free up space for industrial development; as is evident in the case of mining activities at the Narayan Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachchh.

Land put to non-agricultural use has risen exponentially, from 19.60 million hectares to 26.17 million hectares. Clearly, non-agricultural land is not being carved out of agricultural land alone. Land classified as ‘barren’ and ‘waste’ has also declined by 7.06 million hectares between 1980-‘81 and 2009-‘10. But as farmlands reduce at a faster rate than the economy’s dependence on it, the price for such land also increases.

The repercussions of such conversions have to be borne by those residing on that mass. Those earning their livelihoods from farmlands are forced to look for labour jobs; those who sold their land to private builders may not have been given proper rehabilitation; and those living at the poverty line, who were ousted from their land by the land mafia, are now forced to live in slums.

Land mafia to the land bubble

Land is abundant. It is accessible land that is scarce and politicians are a big reason for this. People with political connections hoard large tracts of land and then prevent the extension of city limits, to push up prices. These people are usually a part of the land mafia – a nexus comprising politicians, criminals, property dealers and corrupt government officials. Sometimes, corporate societies make a deal with the mafia to get a certain land vacated. If the estimated market rate of the land is say Rs4 lakh, corporate societies will pay Rs6.5 lakh to the land mafia for their work. By acquiring the land and then selling it to the societies, these people can easily make a profit of over Rs200 million, of course without any investment. The money is then shared with politicians or even the policemen who may have helped in the acquisition of that land.

Those ousted from the land don’t receive any compensation and are then forced to encroach into other vacant land areas. If this area is registered with the government, the habitants receive basic compensation or rehabilitation, but if a private builder buys it, the people are again kicked out and the sage continues.

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