Creating cohesion out of fragmentation
Land pooling is an efficient means of combining smaller land holdings and developing them into new urban areas
Land remains one of the most prized physical assets; its nondiminishing economic value increases manifold when it or even its surroundings are developed. As cities grow and the need for capacity building in infrastructure and providing land for economic activities increases, governments have had to resort to acquiring land owned by private citizens.
Land acquisition has been a contentious policy arena, as it largely falls under individual states which have typically followed the compulsory acquisition route, with compensation based on the land reference rates determined in each state and municipality by the local authorities. These reference rates are invariably anomalous and largely delinked from market realities. In certain cases, the state governments have auctioned such acquired land to private parties for much higher prices than the meagre compensation paid to the original landowners.
In short, the economic benefits arising from land have historically been appropriated by the government, its agencies or private parties. The interests of the original title-holders have been marginalised. This murky scenario has prompted the governments to look at alternate methods of sourcing and developing land which allow the landowners to partner in and benefit from the development process. Enter the concept of ‘land pooling’.
Land pooling results in equitable and efficient land development. It is actually a means of readjusting uneven land distribution by bringing fragmented land holdings together to constitute a larger land parcel. Consequently, infrastructure is developed on
the land, and it is then returned to the original owner(s) after applying a formula. This formula compensates the authority or the entity which undertook the development for the infrastructure and other provided services by allowing them to sell or retain a part of the original land.
Though seemingly complicated, this approach is actually a highly effective way of achieving development while simultaneously promoting social justice. Land pooling involves participation of the national and state governments for policy formulation, notifications, approvals and creation of operational norms. The local agency will receive blanket assistance from various government departments, and is responsible for creating a proper land valuation mechanism to encourage the participation of landowners.
In this manner, land pooling creates an ecosystem for planned development through infrastructural projects supporting urban
area growth, and is an efficient means of combining smaller, irregular land holdings into larger, developed wholes which can serve as new urban areas. By turning landowners into stakeholders in land development through unlocking of their land value and passing on the majority of the benefits to them, the state creates a model of social empowerment and growth while ensuring sustainable development. Finally, the land pooling method also leads to a robust way to create and maintain land title ownership records. This, in turn, creates a transparent registry system, which will enhance land revenues for the local bodies to undertake more projects.
A more constructive approach to solving India’s land acquisition conundrum would be: “Don’t buy land, pool it — the developed whole makes more sense than the sum of its fragmented parts.”