Land Related Core Issues in India


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

April 2015                                                                                         Ajit Kumar (Wisdom IAS, New Delhi)
Land is scarce in India, even though the country has a land area of about 328 million hectares which is the seventh largest land area among the countries of the world. India is burdened with a population of 1210 million as per the 2011 census, which grew from 345 million in 1947 with a growth rate of 1.76 in the last decade. Population density has increased from 117 per sq.km in 1951 to 368 in 2011. The population to land ratio is what make land accounting a matter linked to human development concerns. As the pace of growth in non-farm employment avenues lagged behind the population growth, it forced upon more than half of the population (58%) to eke out their living from agriculture and allied activities. Further, the demand for land and other natural resources for non-farm use arising from urban spread and industrialization have not only shrunken the per capita availability of agricultural land in rural areas from 0.638 hectares in 1950- 51 to 0.27 hectares in 1998-99 but strained its use, leaving devastating consequences on the quality and sustainable use of land. In this context the land related core issues have been discussed below.
Unregulated land use shifts
India’s territory includes 3.287 million sq. km. (328.73 million Ha) with west to east extent of approx. 3,000 km and north to south extent of approx. 3,200 km. Numerous developmental activities demand land and in the process of progression of development, land use changes take place with time. If not regulated such changes can become detrimental in the long run for the sustainable development of India. During the period 1950-51 to 2007- 087 , the net sown areas in the country have increased from 41.8% to 46.1%. the forest areas have increased from 14.2% to 22.8%, and the areas under non-agriculture uses, which include industrial complexes, transport network, mining, heritage sites, water bodies and urban and rural settlements has increased from 3.3% to 8.5%. These increases of land use as above have lead to reduction of land use elsewhere. During the same period (1950-51 to 2007-08), the “other areas” that include barren & un-culturable land, other uncultivated land excluding fallow land and fallow lands have drastically decreased by nearly half from 40.7% to 22.6%. The mining areas are about 0.17% of total land of India, the urban areas are about 2.35% and the industrial areas are much less than 1%. However, with rapid industrialization and urbanization, the associated infrastructure development, the lands under these uses will further increase. These increases of demands of land will require land to taken away from other uses. So far, the land under “other areas” were being used. However, these lands may no further be usable as they maybe under steep hills or other such terrains or uses that constrain their use for developmental purposes. In such cases, the demands for additional lands will be resorted to from agricultural uses or forests uses which would be detrimental. There is a need to strategise utilisation of land and its management so that the land use changes are not detrimental to sustainable development of India.
Reducing per capita land resource
Due to growing population in India, the per capita availability of land has reduced from 0.89 Ha in 1995 to 0.27 Ha in 2007/08. It is estimated that by 2030, India will become the most populated country on earth with 17.9% of world’s total population. With this, the per capita land availability will further reduce. Such reducing per capita land availability will have a direct bearing on the land requirements for various developmental purposes and community development. The concerns become severe when the land availability is reduced directly in the areas that support human life or natural resources such as water or ecosystems including flora and fauna, and agricultural areas.
Meeting the demands of rural and agriculture sectors
As per the 2011 Census, 68.84% of the country’s population lives in 6,40,867 villages and the remaining 31.16% lives in 7,935 urban centres. Although agriculture presently accounts for only about 14% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is still the main source of livelihood for the majority of the rural population, and provides the basis of food security for the nation. Therefore, fertile agriculture land and clean water resources need to be protected effectively for providing and ensuring livelihood to rural population and food security for the nation. Currently, India produces about 245 million tons of food grains while for 2020 it is estimated that the demand for food grains shall rise by 25% to 307 million tons. The agricultural productivity8 is currently half of what it is in many other countries. The solution for food productivity and security may not lie in stopping diversion of agriculture land in all circumstances, but also in increasing food production through higher productivity. However, the increasing use of soil can cause threat to its productivity, as it was experienced in several other countries. Hence, the stark question is whether soils will be productive enough to sustain a population of one billion by the end of the century at higher standards of living than those prevailing now. There is a need for long term plans to meet the food security as well as livelihood issues. For this purpose, reasonable restrictions on acquisition and conversion of at least certain types of agricultural land should be introduced. As per the National Policy for Farmers, 2007 (NPF 2007), prime farmland must be conserved for agricultural use and except under exceptional circumstances the use should not be altered. There is a need to protect agricultural areas that are essential for food security including the prime agricultural lands, command areas of irrigation projects, and double cropped land. There is also a need to protect agricultural lands that are essential for livelihood of rural and tribal populations.
Protecting lands under natural resources and ecosystem services
India comprises seven climate regions in three groups: a) tropical wethumid group with tropical wet (humid or monsoon climate, and tropical wet and dry or savannah climate; b) dry climate group with tropical semiarid (steppe) climate, sub-tropical arid (desert) climate and sub-tropical semi-arid (steppe) climate; c) sub-tropical humid climate group with subtropical humid (wet) with dry winters climate and the mountain, or highland, or alpine climate. India comprises of nine bio-geographic regions, i.e. the Trans-Himalayan Region, the Himalayas, the semi-arid areas, the Western Ghats, the North-West Desert Regions, the Deccan Plateau, the Gangetic Plain, North-East India, the islands, and the coasts.
India has extraordinarily rich biodiversity and several environmentally sensitive and fragile zones. India is one of the twelve mega-biodiversity countries in the world, comprising over 91,000 animal and 45,500 plant species. Nearly 6,500 native plants are still used prominently in indigenous healthcare. Furthermore, India is recognized as one of the eight so called ‘Vavilovian Centres of Origin and Diversity of Crop Plants’, having more than 300 wild ancestors and close relatives of cultivated plants still growing and evolving under natural conditions9 . India has a wide range of soils, classified into 27 broad soil classes. Alluvial soils, black cotton soils, and red soils covering a total of approx. 56% of the total land area, which are considered suitable for a wide range of crops. Laterite and lateritic soils and desert soils covering another 15% of the land are not suitable for agriculture10 . India’s water resources are limited and scarce. The country has only 4% of the world’s renewable water resources at its disposal. Furthermore, these limited resources are distributed unevenly over time and space. In addition, there are challenges of frequent floods and droughts in one or the other part of the country11 . The total area of the recorded forests in the country (2003) is 77.47 million Ha, or 23.57% of the country’s geographic area. Of the forest areas, 51.6% are notified Reserved Forests, 30.8% are notified Protected Forests and the remaining 17.6% are un-classed forests12 . The National Forest Policy of 1988, the Indian Forest Act and various other State legislations on the matters pertaining to forests provide for the guiding principles, and ways and procedures through which legally declared forests are to be utilised and administered. These legislations not only affect the way forest lands are to be utilised, these have profound impact on the utilisation of non-forest lands as well. India is rich in ample resources of a number of minerals and has the geological environment for many others13. India produces 89 minerals out of which 4 are fuel minerals, 11 metallic, 52 non-metallic and 22 minor minerals. There are several ecosystem services being offered by the natural environment and its resources. These include: 
(i) Provisioning, such as the production of food, water;  pharmaceuticals, industrial products, wind/wave/hyrdo-power and biomass.
(ii)  Supporting, such as purification of water and air; nutrient cycles; crop pollination; seed dispersal; disease control.
(iii)  Cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits (e.g., ecotourism).  Preserving, genetic and species diversity for future use; accounting for uncertainty. 
(iv) Regulating, such as the carbon sequestration; climate regulation; waste decomposition; detoxification, flood retention.
There is a need for protection of the natural resource areas including biodiversity areas, forests areas etc. and ecosystem service areas. While areas such as National Parks, Biosphere Reserves etc. are clearly demarcated due to existing legal provisions, the “Eco Sensitive Zones” being identified around them are at present at the discretion of the agencies involved. It has to be ensured that reasonable extents of areas around the environmentally sensitive/fragile areas are demarcated and land use is planned properly. There is also a need to regulate and control land uses in such ‘Eco Sensitive Zones’ so as to avoid conflicts or negative environmental impacts.
Meeting urbanisation demands
Level of urbanization in India has increased from 17% in 1951 to 31% in 2011. According to the world population prospects by the United Nations, 55% population of India will be urban by the year 2050. With this pattern of urbanization, the urban population of 377 million as in 2011 will be 915 million by the year 2050. During the decade 2001-2011, the number of towns in the country has increased from 5,161 to 7,935. The number of urban agglomerations, having a population of more than one million has increased from 5 in 1951 to 53 in 2011. Most of the cities are traditionally located along the major rivers, around lakes and along the coastline, the agriculturally productive belt and environmentally sensitive areas. The urban land is about 7.74 million hectares, which is only 2.35% of the country’s total land area. However, several land use conflicts and environmental problems originate from urban area. The mega cities are mostly spilling over to rural-agricultural belt (peri-urban areas) due to abnormally high land price in the cities as compared to household income of the average citizens. The peri-urban areas or fringes of such agglomerations are under fast transformation resulting into haphazard growth of slums, unauthorized colonies, piecemeal commercial development, intermixes of conforming and non-conforming uses of land coupled with inadequate infrastructures, services and facilities. Cities and towns are emerging as centers of domestic and international investments where most of the commercial activities take place. As the economy grows, towns and cities expand in size and volume and the contribution of the urban sector to the national economy increases. In days to come, the urban sector will play a critical role in the structural transformation of the Indian economy and in sustaining the high rates of economic growth. Ensuring high quality public services for all in the cities and towns will also facilitate the full realisation of India’s economic potential. The demand for non-farm land use will increase further in future. There is a need for appropriate land utilisation and management strategy and land use planning to cater to the growing urbanisation needs. There is scope for re-densification of urban areas by augmenting the existing infrastructure. Large chunks of institutional land within big cities are lying vacant or under uitilised or not available for urban development which can be put to optimum use by way proper planning and land management system. Large extents of agricultural land still exist within the municipal boundaries of small & medium size towns due to slow pace of physical growth and such lands should preferably be retained as such, particularly if the soils are of high quality. There is need for proper planning of urban areas and the regions around.
Meeting industrialisation demands
Industrial development, apart from urbanization, is the major driver of economic growth in India. The 12th Five Year Plan provides that the country needs to reach an annual economic growth rate of at least 8% in five years (2012-17) in order to significantly increase the quality of life of its citizens, reduce poverty and foster environmentally sustainable development. The 12th Five Year Plan proposes growth of economy at 9 to 9.5% during the Plan period (2012-17) and has ambitious targets for various sectors. For example, the growth of manufacturing sector is proposed at 9.8-11.5% and the mining and quarrying at 8 – 8.5%. This will bring in demand for additional land and put pressure on existing land uses for their conversion. The National Manufacturing Policy 2011 of the Government of India has set industrial growth rate of 12 to 14% in the medium run and contribution of industrial sector to national GDP by 25%. It also aims to create 100 million additional jobs by 2022. It has proposed the development of National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZ) in the form of Industrial Clusters and Integrated Townships each having an area of 5,000 hectares. The industrial development that is seen in the form of industrial estates, special economic zones, specialised industrial parks, investment zones, NMIZs, special investment regions, PCPIRs (petroleum, chemicals and petro chemical investment regions) and industrial corridors occupies a lot of land. The industrial development is associated with supportive development, viz, housing areas, transport, trade and commerce areas, wasteland, waste water treatment and disposal areas etc., which also require considerable amounts of land. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor covering an overall length of 1,483 km and passing through the States of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra and the National Capital Region of Delhi, will have 24 identified Industrial Areas and Investment Regions requiring large quantity of land for development not only for industrial areas but also for supporting population arising out of 3 million jobs that would be created. A similar Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor is proposed. Similar other mega industrial infrastructure projects will come up in the future in the country. The creations of large number of SEZs as per the Special Economic Zone Act of 2005, involving large extent of fertile agricultural land have added substantially to already aggravated land relations in India. An SEZ may bring far reaching changes in the local economy. However, people lose access to farmlands, grazing grounds water bodies and other common resources. The agrarian protests against the SEZs are prevalent everywhere in India. These protests have resulted in a paradigm shift in the government policy like, putting a cap of 5,000 Ha of land for each SEZ and an important decision that governments will not invoke its powers under ‘eminent domain’ and ‘public purpose’ to acquire land for SEZs. However, these policy changes may not prove adequate to address the core issues unless there is accompanying land use planning strategy, particularly because of large requirements of land. The requirements of lands for SEZs which are given ‘in–principle approval’ stands at 2,00,000 Ha, which, as per the estimates of the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task in Land Reforms, is capable of producing around 1 million tons of food grains. There is a need for appropriate land utilisation and management strategy and land use planning to cater to the growing industrialisation needs.
Meeting mining sector demands
Land has hidden treasure of vast resources of different kinds of minerals. India is rich in mineral resources such as bauxite, iron, copper, zinc, gold, diamonds etc. Minerals are basic raw materials for many industries and play a key role in the evolution of human society and the development of economies. The wide availability of the minerals in the form of abundant rich reserves/resources makes it very conducive for the growth and development of the mining sector in India. Presently, utilisation of land by mineral sector (excluding atomic, fuel and minor minerals) is about 0.17% of India’s total land (as in 2010-11) and contributes about 2.72% to the GDP of India. The sector provides employment to over 5 lakh people directly. The needs of economic development of India make the extraction of the nation’s mineral resources an important priority14 . Minerals are valuable, finite and largely non-renewable natural resources, but are site specific. The State Governments are the owners of minerals located within their respective boundaries. The Central Government is the owner of the minerals underlying the ocean within the territorial waters or the EEZ of India. Extraction of minerals involves use of land for undertaking mining. Mining industry, unlike other industries, is site specific and degradation of the land and other associated natural resources becomes inevitable. Mining areas are closely linked with forestry and environment issues. A significant part of the nation’s known reserves of some important minerals are in areas which are under forest cover. Further, mining activity has potential to disturb the ecological balance of an area. For ensuring sustainable development, there is a need to properly plan and manage mining areas.
Meeting transport sector demand
The major land users in the transport sector are: railways (railway tracks, stations, workshops, godowns etc.), roadways (roads, fuel pump stations, toll plazas, utilities etc.), airways (airports, runways, workshops etc.), waterways (ports, workshops, godowns etc.). The total road network in India is 4.69 million km in length. In the case of roadways, under the National Highways Act, 1956, the Central Government has power to acquire land for National Highways.
The transport networks require considerable amounts of land and their proper planning is very important, as otherwise the transport networks can trigger land use conflicts due to the development sectors and communities that depend on them.
Development vs. sustainable development
The developmental activities require land and they have potentials to displace people, exploit natural resources and cause negative environmental impacts as well as other land use conflicts. There is a need to support various sectors to achieve their development targets, such as those of urban development, industrial development, mining, and infrastructure development (transportation, ports, harbours, airports etc.) through properly guided development in a sustainable and harmonized manner so as not to have land use conflicts or negative impacts.
Protecting social interests
India has considerable amount of vulnerable populations in the rural, tribal and backward areas, many of whom do not have adequate access to basic amenities and proper livelihood. There are disadvantaged and vulnerable communities including tribal populations, economically weaker sections of people and backward communities. There are issues of livelihood, poverty eradication, inclusiveness and gender. There is a need to support social development addressing these issues. Land plays an important role in all these matters. There is a need to prevent or at least minimize social conflicts arising from acquisition of lands or development of such activities that pose conflicts. Land use planning should be undertaken giving due considerations for social aspects.
Protecting heritage
India has rich cultural and historic heritage. There are several scenic beauty areas and tourism areas. All these areas including religious places of importance, scenic areas, heritage areas, archaeological sites etc. need to be protected from negative impacts of development and land use changes. Depending on the developmental activities coming up in the vicinity of these areas, there could be potential impacts. Though proper land use planning and management such impacts could be prevented and the heritage areas secured.
Inadequate land use planning capacities
There is a severe lack of systematic, orderly and up to date spatial data base in the country that is readily available for land use planning purposes. Also, due to lack of systematic database, there would also be difficulties initially in making projections and forecasting of prospective needs for land uses by various sectors. However, the country is quite advanced in the applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing, which come handy for generating spatial database. The Government of India is already working on setting up National Spatial Data Infrastructure. Systematically, such spatial databases could be built-up over a period of time. Also, the existing database on land use in the country is highly inadequate. There is no mechanism to monitor land use changes taking place and their impacts. Introduction of systematic and integrated land use planning at national, state and regional levels is going to be a major challenge. There have to be supportive instruments (mapping, spatial information, planning processes, tools, methods, procedures, standards etc.) for land use planning and management which also take into account inclusiveness, poverty, gender and climate change aspects. Another aspect is the availability of guidelines for uniform land use planning. Except for urban sector, where urban development plan formulation and implementation (UDPFI) guidelines exist; the other sectors such as industry, environment, transport, mining, agriculture etc. do not have similar guidelines in place. For ensuring proper land use planning, there is a need for development of detailed guidelines for following integrated approaches catering to all the sectors. There is also lack of adequate institutional structures at national, state, regional/district and local levels for planning and management of land resource.


Tuesday, 21st Apr 2015, 08:21:09 AM

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