Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Politics of Open Land Data: The Case of Delhi’s Land Pooling Policy

Published onJun 20, 2022
Politics of Open Land Data: The Case of Delhi’s Land Pooling Policy
·

Abstract

Delhi notified its first land pooling policy in 2013. The policy brought about a paradigm shift in land policy by requiring private landowners to pool their land together for development versus the previously adopted, state-driven model of land acquisition. However, despite due deliberations and revisions, the policy is yet to make a pronounced impact on existing ground conditions.

In absence of a mature data sharing system, contested understanding of land-related data by different stakeholders proved to be a critical roadblock in the implementation of the land pooling policy. The gaps in interpretation of spatial and regulatory data emerged from many aspects, such as fragmented land ownership, disputed titles, heterogeneous community structure with limited shared values, inadequate development incentives, such as Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and development charges, and fear of skewed representation among stakeholders. The complexity of these multiscalar dynamics led to a fundamental lack of trust between landowners and the development authority. As of today, underdeveloped land market and contested political-economic conditions underlie majority of land development scenarios in the Indian context. We find that inefficiencies in information sharing across various land-based stakeholders—both horizontally across government agencies and vertically between the government and its citizenry, have been a crucial gap in the implementation of the Land Pooling Policy of Delhi, thereby leading to policy impasse and an increasing trend of unauthorized development.

Keywords: Land Pooling, Urbanization, Political Economy, Urban Development

1 | Introduction

On a hot summer afternoon, a group of farmers got together to protest on the grounds of a cricket academy near Bhalswa, a settlement located in Delhi’s peripheries. This was June 2021, exactly three years since the notification of the second (2018) version of Delhi’s Land Pooling Policy (LPP). The farmer collective’s frustration toward the development authority was rooted in the slow and ineffective implementation of LPP 2018 (Kapur, 2005). They vowed to develop their lands on their own terms if there was no quick movement on the ground, thereby following a predominant pattern of unauthorized development seen widely across the majority of peri-urban Delhi.

LPP 2018 uses land pooling or land readjustment, which is a technique to assemble disseminated parcels of land holdings for carrying out unified servicing and planning. The participation of landowners in the growth process, where they become collaborators and beneficiaries in development, is the core principle behind this process. Historically, land consolidation mechanisms have been used internationally to support planned development, capture costs for land acquisition, and promote housing growth within urban contexts. The process has been adapted worldwide in different ways, such as land readjustment (LR) in South Korea and Japan, land consolidation in Europe, and land pooling in Australia (Akinyode, 2021).

With cities being interpreted as strategic centers of economic growth, the phenomenon of city building, and expansion is fast catching up with Indian cities. Planning of city regions and metropolitan areas has been gaining traction, and multiple Indian cities are witnessing large-scale greenfield urbanization on their peripheries (Kumar, Sanjeev, & Prakash, 2020). Various states, such as Gujarat, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, and Delhi, have attempted contextual implementation of land assembly tools, such as land pooling, town planning schemes, and joint development. Most of these have been state-led acquisition-based initiatives (Annapurna Shaw, 2007; Kennedy & Sood., 2016). The urban expansion of cities generally happened through acquisition of agricultural lands and inclusion of the village abadi”1 areas within city limits (Aggarwal, 1999; Seth, 2017; Reenue & GNCTDelhi, n.d.).

The Delhi LPP policy has, however, set a new paradigm. The exercise spans the largest urban extension area in India and has been modeled as a voluntary scheme, making the whole development a private-led process wherein the state’s role was restricted to that of an enabler and facilitator. In 2013, the LPP policy was notified by the development authority for an approximate area of 200 hectares (Ha) of Delhi's peripheral area (equivalent to 6,500 times that of the Central Park area, NYC, NY), and it rationalized the development of 89 urban villages (Heller, Mukhopadhyay, Sheikh, & Banda., May 2015).2 The policy was subsequently revised in 2017 and incorporated within Master Plan3 Delhi in 2018.

Across Indian contexts, land has emerged as a major constraint to development due to its fragmented nature, which emerges from existing social and spatial contexts (Sathe, 2011). The existing body of literature for Indian cities suggests that multiple characteristics get attached to land where local people negotiate a range of subject positions, as they meet the state as “stakeholders” in case of development scenarios (Campbell, 2014). When the development authority began engaging and negotiating with the stakeholders with the objective of implementing the policy on the ground through LPP 2013, the process started to bring to the forefront the governance and stakeholder complexities of land consolidation in peri-urban Delhi (Moun & Ruby, 2019). The complexities manifested in the revision of LPP 2013 to LPP 2018 (DDA, Delhi Master Plan-2041(draft), 2021).4

There is a growing body of scholarship on the politics of land development through traditional models, such as land acquisition. However, there is limited scholarship on land development through land pooling processes, particularly in the Global South. Through this study, we wish to contribute to the growing body of work on land pooling as a preferred development approach in peri-urban contexts and the politics around its making and unmaking.

2 | Research intent and methodology

This paper explores the political economy factors for the non-implementation of Delhi’s LPP 2018 by using secondary research and deep ethnographic methods, such as field observations and semi structured interviews with key stakeholders. This work emerges from collaborative research on the context, background, and current implementation status of LPP 2018 of Delhi and builds upon our experiences from being involved with the policymaking process. The initial mapping of LPP was based on our own understanding of existing governance structures and institutional arrangements. The data set for this research paper integrates learnings from in-depth interviews and focused group discussions with government officials, experts, policy makers, consultants, real-estate developers, and farmers on land records along with a thorough documentation of information sources, such as newspaper articles, blog posts, public documents, policy reports and research papers (though limited). The paper is therefore situated around firsthand observations from the field (Figure 1). Our primary research question is “Does information asymmetry within land governance systems act as significant factor toward non implementation of policy?”

Figure 1

Focused group discussions with farmers. Source: Authors’ photo.

We adopt a political economy framework (Edwards and Green, 2016) for data-driven governance, as an analytical tool, to reflect on the shortcomings and challenges of the policy implementation process. This framework helps us contribute to broader objectives of exploring the present systems of land administration and management and gaining insight into perception gaps between public institutions, policy makers, and various private stakeholders that shape the intent of land-based policies.

The methodology of the research work also involved comparison of assimilated documentation and literary analysis about LPP with interview transcripts. Repeated interactions with the interviewees along with a review of secondary literature revealed a pattern of data asymmetry driven by the overlaps in governance. ‘Data asymmetry’ here refers to the gap that seems to exist between the dissemination of knowledge about the initiatives, reforms and policy implementation process intended by the public organizations and interpretation of its accountability by the landowners. We further argue that the gap may be due to the failure to resolve ground realities and technological, organizational, and legal challenges of the public institutions. It is possible that the existing power structures are manifesting through information lapses and a lack of transparency in sharing of data. These factors strongly guided the direction of our research.

Our work has prioritized certain stakeholders, particularly farmers and real-estate developers, because of their deeper involvement in the policy implementation process, and therefore it may not echo the narrative of more vulnerable stakeholder groups, such as landless laborers and agricultural workers. Also, heterogeneous analysis from the perspective of gender, age, or literacy level and the resulting asymmetries are beyond the scope of our paper. Rather than contributing to the politics of land accumulation strategies within LPP, this paper focuses more on exploring the political economy of implementation of the policy.

We paid specific attention to ethical considerations due to insider knowledge, wherein data collected through interviews and publicly available documents was triangulated and used as evidence to support our study. To protect the privacy of our research sources, their identities have been omitted, but their perspectives have been used to inform the arguments in the paper.

This paper is structured as follows. Section 1 introduces the context and motivations behind the research question. Section 2 outlines the research intent and methodology. Sections 3 and 4 detail the literature review and the context of Delhi land governance system, LPP, and the key differences between the two iterations of the policy that were notified in 2013 and 2018, respectively. Section 5 and 6 articulate the emergent narratives with respect to our findings based on the conversations with stakeholders. Section 7 presents the conclusion of the study.


3 | Literature review

With a greater number of cities choosing to expand through planned development of city peripheries, interest in study of effective land governance and management systems is gaining traction. Several countries are consciously focusing on adapting sustainable and inclusionary mechanisms for urban expansion. Organizations such as the World Bank and United Nations are exploring solution-based research through frameworks such as the Land Governance Assessment Framework5 (LGAF) (WB and IBRD 2015WB) and Participatory and Inclusive Land Readjustment6 (PILaR) (UN-Habitat 2016), respectively.

The recent World Bank flagship report titled “Data for Better Lives” identifies data for public good as one of its objectives for advancing development through data-driven approaches (WorldBank, 2021). According to the proponents of the open data movement, the disclosure of administrative data leads to greater transparency and participation of the citizens, because a better understanding of the work processes of public institutions and their decision-making is made available. The citizens are empowered to identify irregularities in these processes and therefore can leverage their rights to a greater extent (Dymora et al. 2018; Napolitano 2019; Ruijer et al., 2020). It is further argued that open government data brings public services closer to the citizen and can also develop potential for economic growth, as private companies can use the data for commercial purposes (Kubicek, 2020). Access to data and its interpretation can play a critical role in helping media and citizen actors maintain relevant checks and balances.

To better understand the causes of information asymmetry, we use two key features of the Edwards framework (permissions and incentives), within the context of the institutional land governance structure of Delhi (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Redrawn from a diagram on political economy framework for data-driven governance published by the Urban Institute (Edwards & Greene, 2016)

At the aggregate level, data is supplied through a diversity of sources, but the system that connects evidence gathering to policy design and implementation is riddled with fragmentations and inefficiencies through aspects of access, analysis, and application of data. Analysis of crosscutting mechanisms of permission and incentive around aspects of access, analysis, and application of data can help in interpreting the fragmentations and constraints experienced by the associated actors. The idea is to use these learnings to develop an understanding of the dynamics of the existing institutionalized systems, for longer-term learnings on the possible remedial processes (Edwards & Green, 2016).

Aspects of access, analysis, and application of data

Access: The uneven nature of decentralized governance has enormous implications for whether and how local stakeholders use data in their decision-making. Within Delhi’s quasi-federal system, there are currently competing political interests at the national and state levels, which impacts propensity for data sharing and availability. This, in turn, has a direct effect on access information for the wider stakeholders.

Analysis: Raw data only adds value to the decision-making process when it can be converted into actionable evidence. However, the type of data collected, the representation of stakeholders in the sampling process, the outcomes of interest, and how the data is integrated into policy implementation are all factors that impact the nature of analysis. The quality and relevance of the analysis is purely demand driven and conditional on the technical capacity and administrative access of the agency that conducts it. Within the context of Delhi, land management’s centralized top-down approach may influence how the analysis informs the policy.

Application: Integration of data into the implementation process faces permission and incentive constraints at various levels. In particular, incorporation of new information from ground realities into policy revisions is a complicated and heavily debated process, which tends to have an impact on the timeline of implementation. While streamlining through either automation or more efficient administrative mechanisms is often cost saving and more transparent in the long run, embedded inefficiencies, such as corruption and influence-mongering, can act as powerful deterrents.

Crosscutting mechanisms

Permission: The complex nature of Delhi’s governance system creates unique constraints for data sharing and access conditions across different levels, both within the government and for its citizens (Pugh, 1991).

Incentive: Land management officials must consider different incentives that affect the decisions they make, including local sociopolitical dynamics, the implications for their vote banks, the extent to which they are accountable for their decisions, and the transparency of their institutions.

Institutionalization

Institutionalization is a process, not a state. Despite Delhi’s multiplicity of authorities, land planning and management remain exclusively within the purview of the central authority (development authority). Sustained influence from individuals, groups, or institutions from citizenry and lower tiers of government is more likely to ensure that data-driven governance bridges information asymmetries and remains immune to political cycles.


4 | Delhi’s land development context

Delhi was one of the first cities to initiate efforts in controlling and regulating its spatial growth. Due to the growing dependencies of flows of people and goods with the surrounding towns, namely, Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad, and Ghaziabad, Delhi in the 1970s became a part of a larger delineated planning region called the “National Capital Region” (NCR).

In Delhi, the subject of land is primarily under the purview of the development authority. The development authority is a central government organization, chaired by the lieutenant governor of Delhi, and subjects such as urban development, housing, police, and national-level transport systems come under the central government. The development authority plays a critical role in the land planning and management of Delhi through the formulation of the master plan.7 Apart from the central control, Delhi is also a state, headed by a chief minister elected by the state assembly, and subjects such as road transport, education, health, and environment come under the state government. Under land management, maintenance of land records and land ownerships is the responsibility of the state-controlled revenue department.

Post-independence, the Land Acquisition and Disposal Act8 primarily shaped the urban expansion/growth of Delhi and ensured the availability of land for development. In 2013, the national-level land development strategy witnessed a methodological shift in the land acquisition rules with the passing of Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act (LARR Act) 2013. The regulatory framework engaged with a range of issues, such as compensation to landowners in urban and rural areas, inclusion of social impact surveys, and formulation of relocation guidelines. LARR Act 2013 proactively focused on objectives such as use of the “capital gains” on urban land in public interest and adopted a participatory approach to policy formulation (Batra, 2009). The additional mandate to bear the cost of relocation and associated social impact surveys, along with the unavailability of adequate funds to acquire urban lands, proved to be a motivating factor for the funds-deficient state development agencies to digress toward market driven land management measures, involving private stake in development (Sakle, 2020).

Land pooling was therefore explored as a consolidation mechanism of land. Land pooling allows for plot boundaries to be redrawn so that the parcels can accommodate higher densities and a range of urban uses (Figure 3). For Delhi, the tool was envisioned as a voluntary scheme, wherein the entire development was to be driven by farmers/private developer/developer entities, who would consolidate, seek permissions, plan layouts, dispose of land, and pay relevant development charges for the pooled land.

Figure 3

Map of Delhi with highlighted LPP zones. Source: Delhi Development Authority (2016)

Growth, expansion, and city building in India has largely been about greenfield urbanization of agrarian land holdings close to cities, and LPP of Delhi identifies the peri-urban areas of the city as sites for the planned development. Our interest in exploring the dynamics of the policy in peripheral areas is based on two factors: in our experience, the agrarian-urban edges have been often perceived as terra nullius, which are adjudged to be characteristically rural by policy makers. It has been pointed out that the vision for these gray zones generally dictates the need for these to be urbanized, disciplined, and recruited into productive regimes of economic growth and development (Kennedy & Sood, 2016). It is also important to acknowledge that previous policies, such as the land acquisition policy, have had a bearing on ground conditions in the land pooling areas in a multitude of ways (Bhan, 2016). Emergence of dispersed sprawl-like conditions, presence of illegal/ unplanned colonies and several unresolved land related court cases were just some of the consequences of the older land policies of Delhi (Kundu 2018; Srirangan, 1997).

The current policy, LPP 2018, is a revision of LPP 2013 with some key fundamental shifts. In 2018, the development authority revised the policy extensively, restricting its role to that of a facilitator and regulator, transferring many of its responsibilities, such as pooling of land, development and redistribution of developed land parcels and housing units, and seeking various departmental permissions, to the private sector, or what the policy calls a “Developer Entity” (DE). The structural shift, which was led by the National Institute of Urban Affairs, marked a critical change between the two iterations of the policy (Development Authority, Delhi Master Plan—2041). Table 1 outlines the key differences between LPP 2013 and 2018.

Parameters Of Divergence

Differences Between LPP 2013 and 2018

Land Pooling Mechanism

LPP 2013 allowed pooling smaller parcels of land (below 2 Ha) by the development authority (state agency) and landowners. In comparison, in LPP 2018, a minimum of 70% contiguous consolidated land had to be pooled together by various owners to ensure the development of a sector. The average size of the sector was 200–250 Ha. This shows that the development authority moved into the role of being a facilitator of the process rather than being the developer itself.

Land Pooling Regulations

In LPP 2013, the development authority was mainly responsible for pooling the land for development, while in LPP 2018, it was mandatory for landowners to attach themselves to a developer entity (DE) for land pooling and land development. This marked the paradigm shift of responsibility of development from the development authority to the landowners.

Responsibilities of the Development Authority (Delhi Development Authority, state agency)

In LPP 2013, the planning, regulation, and implementation of the policy was majorly taken up by the development authority. The policy implementation required frequent direct points of contact between landowners and the agency. The role of the development authority in LPP 2018 was restricted to that of a facilitator. LPP 2018 minimized the point of contact between the agency and the landowners through creation of the online platform. The online platform was meant for verification of documents and regular updates on progress of the policy.

Incentives, such as FAR9 Stamp Duty

In LPP 2013, a FAR of 4 was provided for residential land use, while in LPP 2018, the FAR was brought down to 2 for residential land use, owing to the lack of water availability to meet the requirements of higher densities. In LPP 2013, there were no reductions provided on stamp duty, while LPP 2018 proposes stamp duty exemptions as an incentive toward speedy implementation of the policy.

The external development charges (EDCs)10 in both the policies were levied from the farmers. Calculation and payment of EDCs remain ambiguous within both the policy frameworks.

Table 1: Differences between LPP 2013 and 2018; source: author’s elaboration

According to our conversation with a policy expert, “the previous land policy was asking the landowners to be treated as DE basically to transfer land to DE. So, what was happening was that the development authority was made the custodian of land and till the time that land is developed. Till the land was developed, the development authority would take possession of the land and then transfer back the share of whatever it is built-up property/FAR. This was fundamentally wrong both from organizational principle because if the planner is also the developer, there is a conflict of interest, and this interest is ruining all the Indian cities.”

The need to separate and clarify planning and regulatory roles and to push a transparent policy making process based on various ground conditions was the core principle for redesign and revision of LPP. The decision of restricting the role of the development authority was played out due to the possibility of speculative gains driving the real-estate dynamics within the land pooling areas (Howland, 1976).


Emergent narratives

Permissions:

Permissions explore the key questions regarding stakeholders and their access to information, nature, and quantum of information during the policy implementation process and manifestation of these factors in the emerging data asymmetries.

5.1 | Land titles and administrative delays

Often, property/land is understood as social relations that define the “bundle of rights and obligations” associating the property object (territory/land) and the claims of property holders (Blomley, 2008). Farmers still are unable to treat their land as a purely financial asset, and therefore the supply of the resource for purposes like consolidation can be conceived as “inelastic” (Polanyi, 2001).

A government official describing the progress of LPP policy on the ground explained that “it was found that 40% of the applications were failing to meet the legal land requirements. The major issue being, if a single kasra is owned by 5 different farmers/owners then only one farmer has given his consent for development and the other owners have not shown their willingness to pool land.”

A farmer’s representative elaborated that the “majority of the land ownership are joint holdings which has led to a number of conflicts within families toward giving consensus. Land has also changed hands multiple times, but legal hurdles arise when the documentation has the signature of the original owner (transactor).”

In his seminal work, Sotto (2003) highlights that clear land titles and property rights are key to unlocking the development potential of land. The study highlights the issue of contested/restricted access of land, wherein the marginalized are not part of the formal development system because they do not have the resources to formally survey, map, and record ownership of land and thereby pay taxes. In the 2013 LPP, beneficiaries could come forward for development with a minimum plot area of 2 Ha with no conditions on contiguous land. The LPP 2018, however, mandated a minimum of 70% contiguous land area within a sector11 (200–250 Ha). In LPP 2013, unclear land titles delayed the process of consolidation of land, and in LPP 2018 aggregating “contiguous” developable land (up to 70% within a sector) complicated the opportunity for landowners to capitalize on the land assets. Observers of this phenomena suggest that assembling multiple landowners of agricultural land is an exercise in collective action and this is particularly important for the agrarian context, where the intergenerational transfer of land within large joint families has led to agricultural land plots of small size and irregular dimensions (Balakrishnan 2019). A multiplicity of owners on a single kasra12 (survey) number results in multiple contestations across urbanizable parcels of land (TEAL, n.d.). The inability of LPP to account for the timelines and resolution of this nature has delayed the implementation of policy.

In Delhi, the state government carries out many diverse land-related functions, such as magisterial matters, revenue courts, issue of various statutory documents, registration of property, and documentation for land acquisition. The work of land revenue is critical, since Delhi has grown on the agricultural lands acquired from the villages. Formulating reforms for the use of agricultural lands by a state agency is critical in protecting rights of the farmers (Coelho, Kamath, & Vijayabaskar, 2016). Land management in Delhi, however, is under the development authority, which is under the central government. Planning and implementation are therefore a combined effort of departments under both the center and the state. Conversation with a senior town planner from the development authority revealed the complexity of the process: “Once we go through the documents submitted by the applicant, it is then sent to the revenue department for them to check the land records details and encumbrances around land title details. They process the information at their end, the land records data is not fully shared with us nor are there any provisions for us to work together to speed up the process.”

Transparency and efficiency are important in the process for the delivery of permissions for restricted land uses. This is a key issue, since obstacles to obtain, such permissions can lead to not only the arbitrary treatment of land users but also an inefficient allocation of the resource. Furthermore, an opaque and lengthy process may facilitate corruption and the rent seeking behavior of administration officers at the detriment of land users (WB and IBRD 2015; Mandelkern, Sheikh, & Ben, 2014). A senior policy expert, emphasizing the intent of the administration to resolve issues, stated that “land titles should be considered as a cultural issue that has to be simultaneously resolved and put into a separate bucket from development. There is also a tussle between the Delhi government (SDM, District magistrate maintaining the land titles) and the development authority (central government). This business about information asymmetry and change of the culture—is it utopian?”

5.2 | Access to information around policy implementation

Access to relevant information of different stages during a policy implementation is a necessary condition for the actors/stakeholders. For implementation of LPP 2018, the development authority proposed an online single-window portal with the objectives of providing regular policy updates, disseminating critical information, and exchanging information between beneficiaries and the state agency (development authority).

Our analysis of the state of the portal as a medium for information exchange revealed that the portal was playing an important role in information sharing in its initial stages. However, in terms of access, beneficiaries could only view details of their own land parcels that had been brought forward for pooling and did not have an idea of how many parcels within their sector had come forward. One objective of the portal is also enabling transparency by making live progress available through the portal. This could have ensured a new level of stakeholder participation and awareness. Explaining the reason for creation of the portal under LPP 2018, a policy expert explained that use of the technology and information exchange platform was introduced to ensure transparent and fair transactions: “[The] screening process itself (LPP 2013) was the root cause of the corruption. It enabled a system where someone had to sit face-to-face with somebody and negotiate across the table. This was an opportunity for rent seeking to happen. So, the earlier question about transparency, or why a portal was important because the design of the portal was also something that we (i.e., policy experts) intervened in (LPP 2018). We (i.e., policy experts) gave the map of the portal. You should not need to negotiate or even talk to anybody to be recognized to be called a DE.”

A farmer’s representative mentioned during our conversations that “right now, it’s just been temporarily operationalized for the registration of the lands. Even after floating the main tender to develop the portal, no one was awarded it. Tenders have yet to be issued. Currently, there is just an option for registration and some maps, we don’t know what the status of our sector is—how many parcels have come forward etc.”

In the initial stages of outreach, the authority had used advertisements and field surveys to reach out to the citizens (Authority, 2019). However, the surveys clearly revealed a mismatch between the development authority's outreach efforts and the expectations of the farmers. The inability of the portal to act as a dynamic platform, with limited information sharing on the overall status of the pooling policy, has further impacted the trust of the beneficiaries.

Incentives

Under incentives, we have attempted to explore questions pertaining to the range of incentives available/offered as part of the policy and their impact on the implementation of the policy. We explore three types of incentives in our study: FAR, EDCs, and influence of changing ground conditions and regulation of land markets.

Planning tools, such as FAR and EDCs, are critical tools through which land development policies are facilitated, and dialogues around their modifications capture the narratives of a range of contestations. Our interaction with the development authority revealed that land titles, allotments, and acquisition, increase in FAR, and termination of EDCs were the prominent issues expressed by the private stakeholders. From the interviews, we concurred that some of the major tools for application and implementation of the policy, such as FAR and EDCs, have also been the most contested aspects of LPP 2013/2018.

5.3 | How much FAR is enough FAR?

A development authority representative stated that “the FAR was brought down based on the water requirements for the projected population, Delhi is a water stressed city and allowing massive developments will just exacerbate the problem further.”

With the notification of LPP 2018, a major issue for the beneficiaries was the reduction of offered FAR (FAR was reduced from 4 (LPP 2013) to 2 (LPP 2018)). FAR incentives/density bonus is a good way to offset public cost through private investment and make development favorable for the private developers. For areas to support high FAR, they need to be complemented with relevant infrastructure (Slangen, Shenvi, & Ron, 2018). Lower FAR, however, can result in scarcity of availability of urban space and wasteful consumption of resources, such as land, leading to high land prices. It is therefore critical to allow people to build fair amounts on their parcels of land. Capturing the controversies around the subject of FAR, a senior policy expert highlighted during our conversation that “FAR became a controversial issue. There were people within state agencies who offered a lot of criticism about FAR restrictions. But all this is also about corruption. The more FAR is issued, the more supposed profits are booked and more people in the system can benefit from corruption. So, the people were not really interested in the sustainability aspects of land growth. Probably in my projection, this could make or break the policy implementation in the area. Either people will understand that FAR is not the only way to measure the price of land.”

FAR, while being a factor for many data points, such as density and housing demand, is also seen as an unavoidable incentive within Delhi’s planning system. Clarity of access to parameters of land, such as value and planning, would help stakeholders to collaborate on decision-making around these.

5.4 | External development charges

EDC have also been a controversial issue due to the uncertain nature of its calculation methodology. EDC currently is to be borne by landowners on 100% of the land, despite them receiving just 60% of the land back. Additionally, the DE consortia are expected to pay the lion’s share of the EDC, with little to no return on their investment from salable assets (i.e., infrastructure services, PSPs). The lack of information on how one calculates or ascertains the EDC has been therefore a major drawback in the public acceptance of the policy.

The farmers’ collective mentioned that the “responsibility for EDC is too much on us and cannot be put on landowners alone. Especially for smaller landowners who are unable to get access to credit markets because they can’t use their share of the pooled land as collateral especially once the consortium is established. Without clarity about the mechanism for transfer of development rights, farmers are even more hesitant to pay money they do not have.”

Analysis has shown that groups often choose collective over individual action as a profit-maximizing measure when the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived costs (i.e., both external and decision-making costs) (Buchanan and Tullock 1965; Olson, 1971). Lack of clarity on the perceived benefits of the policy in terms of both EDC and FAR has been an impediment to the successful acceptance of the policy by the landowners.

5.5 | Dynamics of land markets

Delhi has not been able to control or regulate land prices. In the absence of a control mechanism, land remains a speculative entity controlled through circle rates impacted by other legal aspects, such as high stamp duties. Lack of valuation of land has been further impacted by the lack of an effective market regulator (Sami, 2011). A senior policy maker who was instrumental in preparation of LPP 2018 explained that “real estate regulation authority is the stakeholder in the implementation of the policy. But even the real-estate authority isn’t capacitated enough to regulate the market.”

The notification of LPP 2013 initiated a considerable surge in land valuations in lieu of potential opportunities created by the increased supply of urbanizable land (Bedi, 2014). However due to the slow pace of implementation of the policy, the land pooling areas witnessed a downturn in land prices. Tracing the course of the changing policy regime, the farmer’s collective recollected that “the land values within the land pooling zones of Delhi, reduced from Rs. 50 million per acre in 2013 to Rs. 15 million per acre today, majorly due to lack of implementation of the initial policy. Many large real-estate developers within the region (who had bigger stakes in the surrounding towns) did not actively participate in the policy so that high demand for land is maintained in the NCR and the land market in peri-urban Delhi is kept suppressed.... If farmers go to access credit, they will get 2 lakhs per house and the builder will get 20 crores. There is a massive disparity in access to credit between a builder and a farmer. “

Within land pooling, the only way value addition can be done to the agricultural land is through a land-use conversion of rural land to a nonagricultural use (urban use) followed by an infusion of infrastructure. Balakrishnan (2019), from her experience in Maharashtra, points out that the assembly of fragmented plots into larger, more regularly dimensioned plots amenable for serviced urban development increases land price considerably. Studies estimate that the introduction of sanitation infrastructure increases land value by 3.03 times, road infrastructure increases value by 2.58 times, and a supply of piped water increases the value of land by 1.02 times (Peterson, 2008). However, contrary to the contrasting perspective of the policy expert, a representative of a real-estate self-regulatory body highlighted the negative impact of mandating consolidation of large parcels of land for development: “through this policy you are actually promoting large developers to come in and buy out the land from smaller farmers which defeats the very purpose of the policy (Bagchi, 1993). You are creating monopolistic markets.”

Shatkin (2016), in his study of real-estate practices and political economy in peripheral areas within Asia, underlines that the manipulation of urban design, planning tools, and revenue utilization are political choices that state functionaries in control of land have power to act upon. The unfolding of the peri-urbanization processes, in a context of changes in the politics of land management brought by the massive value created by land appreciation, leads to valorization of land (Bose, 1968). These changes gravitate toward a “real estate turn” in urban politics in which the state comes to own direct stake in land commodification. Upadhyaya (2020) refers to “land speculation” as a common practice of planned infrastructure and urban development projects, especially in the post-liberalization period, wherein the intimate relation between land and real-estate markets, and political power and party funding, are well known. She describes that for state agencies, establishing trust with the developers is critical, and such expectations have patterns in which they are produced, disseminated, and consumed.

According to the farmers’ collective, between 2013 and 2018, Delhi’s peri-urban land values have fallen due to a lack of demand for projects and a lack of clarity on the policy roll-out. With the development authority opting for a facilitator’s role in implementation of the policy, farmers will have to depend on a developer consortium (DE)/real-estate agent/middleman to help them clear the encumbrances. This may lead to the consortium negotiating for joint development with larger stakes, especially when possibilities of land speculation cannot be completely negated in such a case. A strong and effective land administrative system is therefore a critical need of the hour to ensure equity and parity within the land pooling proces.


6 | Emergent narratives of policy impasse

6.1 | Changing ground conditions

In LPP 2013, the zonal maps issued to the stakeholders depicted the proposed land-use map and not the existing conditions on the ground. LPP 2018 insisted on preparation of a land-use map of the existing ground conditions. A policy expert explained that “the ground conditions also gave us realistic conditions on how road layouts and so on should be. In previous plans, roads ended in nowhere, met other roads at peculiar angles and collided into a village. This happened because the landowners had negotiated and didn’t matter about road layouts as long as they were able to find the best land uses for their lands.”

The farmers’ collective, however, have claimed that the satellite imagery used to demarcate on-the-ground conditions for the 2018 policy was not updated and dated back to 2015. In the 1970s, Delhi witnessed a surge in construction of Unauthorized Colonies (UACs), which were a result of mismanaged timelines of land acquisition policy of the development authority. Experts point to the growing phenomena of continuous encroachment of land by UACs. UACs are now increasingly becoming an alternate and easy way for earning revenue from vacant land for many landowners in the urban peripheries, explained a farmer representative: “There is an existing syndicate to keep them there. Where will they go? These UACs have been all regularized, with water connections… Post 2015, the developments that happened, these areas can be remapped, and the remaining land can still be included in the policy. But the main issue is that the development authority has not started work in any of the sectors, so then why will they come ahead?”

Failure to timely demarcate the illegal colonies/UACs as existing on the ground gives windfall gains to those who have occupied such lands in unauthorized ways. Despite, the existence of these encroachments the layout plans continue to legitimize green field landsor an effective implementation of land policies and enabling evidence-based planning, these issues must be resolved through robust land administrative mechanisms.

5.Lack of trust between farmers, real-estate developers, and the development authority

LPP 2018 recommended a detailed documentation of existing site conditions through preparation of detailed zonal maps. Various forms of data were therefore collected during the preparation and implementation stages of the policy. Initially, collection of spatial data based on satellite imagery and cadastral information, such as details of buildings, roads, and natural features, helped in arriving at decisions on planning for land use. However, the absence of land ownership data proved to be a critical gap hindering the evolution of the policy formulation to the next stage. As pointed out aptly by the farmers’ collective, the restricted and unclear nature of this valuable information source has been a major hurdle in urban development in India.

Along with the existence of fragmented ownership of land, the lack of legal protections for the landowners (such as regulatory frameworks and legal contracts) further exacerbates the mistrust for developers. It appeared that in the absence of options, farmers placed a greater trust in public institutions, such as the development authority, because they are provided some form of documentation that validates their transitory relationship with the development authority. In the words of the farmers’ collectives, “internally in our families we are unable to decide anything, even what our next meal should be, how does the government expect us to come together with our family members to decide on how to develop land jointly…. We don’t trust the real-estate developers so much; we trust the development authority more. Real-estate developers operate only for profit and will want to extract all value from our land and not give us our fair share. Also, once the DE is formed, larger landowners within the sector will have a monopoly and major say on critical decisions.”

Successful examples of land pooling13 in India’s complex caste-dominated political economy, have shown that trust is fundamental to its successful implementation (Balakrishnan, 2019). The lack of trust within an institutional framework is generally indicative of the lack of transparency and information sharing between different actors within the institutional framework. Trust is ensured by the government’s ability to exert control over land markets and yet ensure their autonomy for the planning and management of urban land from influence from non-state social actors (Shatkin, 2016).

In the case of Delhi, this lack of trust seems prevalent at multiple levels—between the farmers themselves, between farmers and real-estate developers, and between farmers and the development authority. These emotional landscapes have played an intricate role in the making/unmaking of LPP. Theory predicts that unless the number of individuals in a group is small or unless there is coercion or some other special device to make individuals act in their common interest, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests (Olson 1971). Therefore, in the absence of relevant factors, such as homogeneity, a common interest, or a political actor uniting them, the farmers are unable to act collectively, resulting in the growing mistrust among all the stakeholders. The glaring gap in the rationale of the policy is thus its inability to understand the social dynamics of the city and the stakeholders. It can be stated that this has conclusively led to the proliferation of unplanned development and a poor policy implementation.

Conclusion

Figure 4

Emergent findings of the study. Source: Author(s)’s elaboration.

Figure 4: Emergent findings of the study. Source: Authors’ elaboration.

Conversations from our interviews yielded interesting findings about the process of implementation of LPP 2013 and 2018 . It emerged that absence of continuous transfer of on-site information (factors such as clarity of the progress of the implementation process, achievement of milestones, and parity between various stages of the policy) had a detrimental impact on implementation (Figure 4). While the older policy had these gaps, the inability to bring all the stakeholders to a common understanding continued through the 2018 iteration of LPP.

From our research, it also emerged that the land pooling mechanism was heavily impacted by the prerequisite conditions of the land pooling areas (Moun & Ruby, 2019). The impact of previous land management mechanisms, existing dense village areas and their demographic composition, conflicted and unresolved state of land titles and ownerships (Amlanjyoti Goswami 2017), absence of clarity on the value of their lands, and consistent lack of awareness of the policy initiatives due to technology illiteracy created asymmetries. All these data asymmetries set against the backdrop of Delhi’s overlapping governance structures have manifested in a lack of trust between various stakeholders and the proliferation of unplanned development within the land pooling areas (see Figure 2). Failure to address these data asymmetries has resulted in the derailment of LPP.

We also note that without granting permission and aligning incentives, it will be difficult to develop a culture of an evidence-based decision-making that is immune to the political cycles (Edwards & Green, 2016). The question regarding the institutionalization of data-driven decision-making remains an ongoing discussion. However, acknowledging that both local and national-level political factors can cause the undoing of the policy implementation process would be a step in the right direction. We believe that a robust digital governance system with greater levels of transparency between development authorities and beneficiaries will be a possible solution toward solving the existing policy impasse.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Ms. Aparna Soni, SPA-Bhopal, Dr. Shrawan Acharya, JNU, and Mr. Kavas Kapadia, SPA-Delhi for helping us structure our research work. We would like to thank Mr. Bhupendra Bazad for his regular support in connecting to stakeholders on the ground, both farmer groups and real-estate developers. We want to also thank the MPD 2041 team at the National Institute of Urban Affairs, especially Prof. Jagan Shah, Mrs. Kanak, and Mr. Nilesh, for the invaluable lessons we learned while planning a megacity, such as Delhi.

Comments
0
comment

No comments here

Why not start the discussion?