January 19, 2021 12:14:54 am
Over 240 private land owners have opted for the Maharashtra government’s “one-time settlement” route to wriggle out of obligations imposed under the erstwhile Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1974, in the past 18 months.
According to official statistics, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, which alone accounts for 5,582 acres of such land, has seen nearly 73 per cent (174 out of 240) of these transactions, with the Thane region alone accounting for 163 cases.
The Act, which was eventually repealed in 2007, had imposed a ceiling on the extent of vacant land that could be held in urban areas in order to prevent the concentration of such lands in a few hands. But the same Act also contained provisions permitting states to exempt surplus vacant land from the ceiling by imposing stringent conditions on their development. This exemption clause was saved as per a court ruling even after the Act was repealed.
In Maharashtra, the government, while invoking the exemption clause, had prohibited any change of use of surplus industrial lands without a government nod. In cases where such permissions were granted, land holders were obligated to surrender 5 per cent of the built-up tenements free-of-cost to the state government for public housing purposes. Also, in the case of the remaining 95 per cent tenements, the condition was that these should not be more than 80 square metre in size and should compulsorily be sold at prices pre-determined by the government.
Some of India’s top business families, which possess such land in the Mumbai region, and a clutch of real estate majors, had been pushing for lifting of the stringent conditions for several years.
In August 2019, just ahead of the Assembly polls in Maharashtra, the state government, then led by Devendra Fadnavis, acceded to their demand, offering to lift the conditions on payment of a “one-time settlement” premium fee to the government, which, depending on the nature of the plot and the type of use, would be anywhere between 10-35 per cent of the ready reckoner values. A section of the civil society had questioned the move and had even approached the Bombay High Court against it.
From August 1, 2019, till now, the government has earned Rs 202.37 crore in premiums under the one-time settlement scheme, show the data. In Thane region, where 163 cases have opted for the scheme, the government has earned Rs 121.53 crore, while Mumbai, where 11 cases have been settled, the government has collected Rs 34.49 crore so far. The data also show that in Sangli, 21 surplus lands have opted for the scheme, while in Pune and Ulhasnagar, the number of beneficiaries were 20 and 11, respectively.
The previous government has justified the sop, contending that the government lacked resources to ensure compliance of the imposed conditions. It had found that about 1,405 housing schemes and 1,633 bungalow schemes permitted on such lands in the past had violated these conditions. Sources also said that the Uddhav Thackeray government, which has also backed the relaxation, has sought a review of the scheme. It wants more owners to opt for one-time settlement.
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