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Officials’ allotment powers at root of great land grab

MUMBAI: At the root of most cases of misuse of land in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai,
highlighted in the yet-to-be-tabled Comptroller and Auditor General report appears to be
one overriding cause: the powers to arbitrarily allot land vested at various levels of the
administration, including the collector, bureaucrats and ministers.

The wrongful use of land, experts say, starts at the lowest rungs—that of the tahsildar, talati,
sub-divisional officer and the collector. They have the authority, though limited, to allot
land. Whenever they have to circumvent the limitations, these government officers knock on
the doors of the highest authority in the revenue department, who uses his "quasi-judicial"
powers to resolve questions of land utilization and allotment.

In certain cases of land violations pointed out in the CAG report, the orders allocating them
were patently arbitrary. "In one instance, the licence fee (for setting up a complex) was to be
waived off nominally but a minister decided to reduce it drastically. That sort of a decision is
difficult for the CAG to question. It is also difficult for officials like us to do anything about
it. It is just settled there and then," said an official from the collector's office.
Ramchand Bhuskute, a former tahsildar, explains that the land's status is manipulated and
its title transferred repeatedly to pave way for the misuse at the top echelons of the
government.

Ramchand Bhuskute, who has written a book on the great land grab across Maharashtra
Once that is accomplished, on most occasions, the land end ups in the pockets of MPs,
MLAs and their relatives. "The land is issued for a specific purpose and left vacant. Later,
fancy buildings come up on it," says the 87-year-old. "My book details how the Maharashtra
Land Revenue (Disposal of Government Land) Rules, 1971, is violated by all and sundry."

The MLR allows the government to allot any land with it on terms that "it deems fit". For
land worth up to Rs 2.5 lakh, the power to allot it lies with the Collector; for a plot worth Rs
2.5 lakh to Rs 6.25 lakh, the divisional commissioner is the authority; and for property
worth Rs 6.25 to Rs 25 lakh, the sanction has to be given by the revenue and forest
department. Anything valued higher can be allotted only by the finance department and the
state chief minister.

Experts demand that rules be modified to prevent further loot of the goldmine that land has
become in Mumbai and its neighbouring areas. "While there is no consensus on how to
demand these changes in the MLR, the quasi-judicial decision taken under the act only
leaves scope for court intervention," says Ulka Mahajan of the Committee Against
Globalization, who has been detailing the misuse of land by industries in Maharashtra.

Most industries, Mahajan explains, are allotted land for the purpose of constructing a plant
but the construction never takes place. The land is kept vacant until the prices appreciate.
Indeed, the CAG report notes that 532.78 hectares of subsidized land given to the
Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation in nine districts, including Mumbai, has
been lying vacant for periods ranging from four to 22 years.

"The Public Accounts Committee in 2007 highlighted a loss of roughly Rs 70,000 crore to
the state by industries who misused their 'incentive period'," says Mahajan.

The CAG has recommended several measures to plug the loopholes in the system, including
setting up a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, better land management and
management of database, appropriate action in cases of violations, and proper recovery of
occupancy and lease rents.