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Vijayawada’s inclusive expansion

Its innovative land-sharing model shows a way to address the challenges of urban expansion.

Written by Isher Judge Ahluwalia |
September 28, 2011 3:24:20 am

Land has been very much in the news these days. There are many who keep talking about the rural-urban divide,and land of course is the principal bone of contention. Recognising the importance of rural-urban synergy in development,we will have to put scarce land to alternative uses of farming as well as urbanisation — which,in any case,is inevitable.

If we want the Indian economy to grow at 8 per cent per annum,this growth in GDP will have to come from industry and services. Nowhere in the world has agriculture grown faster than 4 to 4.5 per cent per annum. So,either we decide to lower our ambition,and grow at rates of economic growth which are much slower — and live in poverty for much longer — or we facilitate urbanisation so that our cities and towns can be the engines of growth,as was envisaged even by those who fought for our political independence.

In 1938,the Indian National Congress had set up a national planning committee under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Even though the committee’s work was interrupted by World War II,it is known that they talked of doubling or trebling national wealth every 10 years. This broadly implies a target growth rate of GDP ranging between 7 and 11 per cent per annum. Six decades after independence,our economy is beginning to deliver growth which comes close to what the national planning committee had then set out as a reasonable target.

Ironically,it is our success on the growth front which has brought the land issue to the fore. The Indian economy has made a phenomenal transition from the bottom of the growth heap in the first three decades after Independence to one of the world’s fastest-growing economies today. The rapidly growing sectors of industry and services need space to grow. The question is how agriculture can make room for the growth of towns and cities.

If the Indian economy,with its faster and more inclusive growth,needs more roads,railways,ports,airports,hospitals,schools,public transport,and housing for all including the economically weaker sections of society,then how is land to be procured? Land use planning for transport,physical and social infrastructure in general,and public transport and low income housing in particular,zoning and scope for mixed use,density in the use of land (floor-space index),are instruments in the hands of planners and policymakers to facilitate this transition.

The question is not whether we need agricultural land to accommodate the expansion of cities and build infrastructure. It is how. The outdated and antiquated Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has so far guided the process of land acquisition by the state for “public purpose.” The farmers from whom land is acquired feel aggrieved because they are often displaced; they find the compensation highly inadequate,especially when they see the value of their land rising after the infrastructure is in place.

The development authorities set up by state governments have mostly exploited their monopoly position to generate inefficiency and corruption,and have had little planned urban development to show. Private developers,when given this opportunity,have also often failed to keep their promises of building urban infrastructure.

The government of India is working on a new land acquisition bill. The real challenge is to ensure that farmers receive a fair compensation,and as some land is shifted from rural to urban use,productivity improvements on the remaining land should compensate for this reduction in area under agriculture. As of today,only 3 to 4 per cent of the total land in the country is available for 31 per cent of the population which is urban. By 2031,the urban population will reach 40 per cent.

We hope that the new act will bring clarity on the eminent domain of the state in acquisition of land for “public purpose.” But,while the government sets its house in order,there are inspiring examples of how to go about the business of urban development and inclusion in a cooperative manner with active participation of the stakeholders.

Earlier we had presented the town planning schemes of Ahmedabad and Surat (‘Expanding our towns for urban growth’,IE,February 24,2010) which have successfully achieved city expansion with minimal displacement of people,active participation of landowners in urban planning,and some inclusion (up to 10 per cent of the land reserved for housing for the urban poor),while also contributing towards financing of infrastructure investment.

In another model of public-private partnership,we showcased Magarpatta (‘Building a city with rural-urban partnership’,IE,May 26,2010) as a fine example of land pooling. Magarpatta is a modern and sustainable urban habitat,developed by the original inhabitants who were farming their ancestral lands in the area located on the outskirts of the city of Pune. However,Magarpatta has done little for “inclusion.”

It is time now to celebrate yet another significant achievement in land pooling,in Vijayawada,which has shown how “inclusion” can be accomplished within a framework of integrated planning of a city.

As the commercial capital of Andhra Pradesh,Vijayawada has been growing rapidly. It has been attracting a lot of migration of labour from the northern districts in search of employment for over three decades. As a result,the Vijayawada urban agglomeration has been experiencing population growth at much faster rates than the state. The river Krishna on its southern side,and hills on its northern side,were physically constraining its development.

By 2001,its population had increased to 8.5 lakh,and 25 per cent of the urban population lived in slums. There were 111 slums on encroached land along the banks of the canals,and on open railway tracks. The population has become 11.8 lakh in 2011 and is expected to increase to 16.5 lakh by 2021. There was an urgent need to relocate people living in slums,particularly in hazardous areas.

To address this challenge,the Vijayawada municipal corporation (VMC) has taken up an innovative land-sharing model,partnering with the landowners of Jakkampudi and Gollapudi villages in two phases: phase I covers an area of 226 acres,and 787 acres are covered under phase II. The project was taken up under the BSUP (basic services for the urban poor) programme of the JNNURM. The first phase covered only the villages at Jakkampudi,and is completed. Altogether,9,000 houses have been built in Jakkampudi area under this programme. The second phase,which includes the whole of Gollapudi and parts of Jakkampudi,is about to begin.

At first,the VMC went about their business in the conventional manner of land acquisition. Not making much headway there,they decided to get into a direct dialogue with the farmers and reached an agreement. Farmers agreed to part with 40 per cent of their land to the VMC for building houses for the economically weaker sections of society. In return,the VMC agreed to develop the 60 per cent that remained with them,for the use of original owners. Of this land,again,40 per cent was given by the original owners for physical and social infrastructure. Thus,farmers in the end agreed to retain only 36 per cent of their original land — of course benefiting from the huge appreciation in its value that resulted from the infrastructure development.

The state government spent Rs 25 crore in actually bearing the cost of development charges for this land. The VMC,besides providing the urban infrastructure in the form of roads with open/closed drains,underground drainage system,reservoir for drinking water,and other physical and social infrastructure,also ensured connectivity with the city. This was done by building an inner ring road,a flyover bridge across the railway line,and improved connectivity to the national highway. This helped achieve integration in Vijayawada’s urban expansion. However,a public transportation system has to be developed to make this connectivity truly effective.

Vijayawada has made bold attempts at inclusion,while going for land pooling to cope with its expanding population. The economic sustainability of this exercise towards inclusion remains to be seen. If farmers develop trust that they are shareholders in the development of the region,there is every reason to believe that we can have more such experiments in making land available for urban expansion. The challenge in making this work is to ensure that infrastructure commitment by the urban local body and financial commitments by the beneficiaries of inclusion are kept,and farmers have an effective option to choose between farming and other alternatives.

The writer is chairperson of ICRIER and also former chairperson of the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure services

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