Bid to ‘land’ votes: In Punjab, it’s pouring property from poll clouds

  • Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 20, 2016 10:37 IST
“This is the first time after Independence that the Punjab government is taking steps to make occupants the owners of properties in which they are living for generations... There’s a right time to do everything,” Madan Mohan Mittal said. (HT File )

“Lakhs and lakhs of people will be covered under the property-related policies that we are launching soon,” is what Punjab industries minister Madan Mohan Mittal declares, and then comes down to some plain poll-speak: “It will benefit us. Everyone needs a home (‘makaan’) and a shop (‘dukaan’).”

Assembly elections are hardly six months away, and stakes are high for the SAD-BJP alliance that faces two terms’ anti-incumbency, a combative Congress, and an aggressive newbie, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

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Mittal of the BJP heads a six-minister committee of the Parkash Singh Badal regime to frame the policy for ownership rights to occupants of houses in villages and lal dora (municipal limit) areas. And this is just one of the many sops that the government has on this front.

Besides, commission agents (arhtiyas) will get shops in seasonal foodgrain-procurement centres; a policy for houses to the economically weaker sections (EWS) is being drawn up; and an ordinance is set to amend The Punjab Laws (Special Provisions) Act to legalise 10,000 unauthorised housing colonies.

Giving ownership

The Mittal-led panel — also comprising cabinet ministers Tota Singh, Sikandar Singh Maluka, Gulzar Singh Ranike, Anil Joshi and Bikram Singh Majithia — met on August 10 and another meeting is planned “in the near future”. The policy for rights to occupants will be ready by the end of this month, he says on Friday. That’s 12 more days.

The policy aims to cover occupants since Independence who have not got ownership rights. “The problem the occupants face is that they can’t use these properties for mortgage or to raise loans, or even sell at a good price. The plan is to make these properties productive,” Mittal tells HT.

The model being followed is from Madhya Pradesh, says a senior officer in the revenue department. “The government is looking for a foolproof mechanism to establish genuineness of the occupants. Also, the fee to be charged is being worked out,” adds the officer.

Estimates say there are at least 100 such houses in each of the 13,000 panchayats. “That’s about 13 lakh such dwelling units in the state! No one seems left out,” says Mittal.

The plan was mooted two years ago. Why did it take so long to get to the drawing board? Mittal says every plan has a “right time for execution”. Does that mean election time? He accepts that, with a hearty laugh.

Shops for arhtiyas

President of the state’s commission agents’ association, Ravinder Singh Cheema recently approached chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for shops to the association members. Cheema claims to represent the moneyed class of 23,500 arhtiyas in rural Punjab.

A policy is in the making now. On August 5, Cheema, also vice-chairman of the Punjab State Agricultural Marketing Board (or mandi board), was part of meeting chaired by the CM on August 5, when a broad outline was discussed. That will come up for approval of the council of ministers shortly.

Estimates say shop plots measuring 10 feet by 20 feet, in the 1,500 procurement centres that have no such facilities so far, are expected to be given to commission agents. At a nominal Rs 50,000!

“Those with three years’ experience as commission agents are eligible; giving a new base to agents who are not very old in the business,” says Cheema.

The mandi board, which runs and owns procurement centres, is expected to mop up Rs 375 crore from the 75,000 plots. “The land for seasonal procurement centres was given by village panchayats and is now owned by the board; but these could never be turned into full-fledged business centres. Now, that will happen,” he says. 

Poor policy

The 2008 policy for economically weaker sections (EWS) in housing and urban development — asking builders to spare 10% space for the category — was not implemented effectively, so the government plans to amend it.

The new policy will allow developers to construct homes for the EWS anywhere within five kilometres of the project. “This will give a relaxation to the developers,” says chief town planner HS Dhillon. Also, if EWS families own land, the builder can construct a home on that.

Officers in the housing department say, “Not many came forward to apply for a home under the EWS category under the existing policy; and developers also have certain limitations. The amendments will deal with that.”

Breather for illegal colonies

That’s not all. The state government is contemplating to give another chance to unauthorised colonies and the property owners therein for legalisation. This regularisation scheme had been offered twice in the past, in 2013 and 2014; the last cut-off was February 2015.

The scheme is applicable for colonies falling in the jurisdiction of six subsidiaries of the Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA), in Mohali (SAS Nagar), Ludhiana, Amritsar, Patiala, Bathinda and Jalandhar, and also the municipal corporations.

The plan is to amend The Punjab Laws (Special Provisions) Act, for which the government will take the route of an ordinance, which is technically valid for six months and is to be used for urgent matters when assembly’s nod is not possible within that time. In this case, the next and possibly the session of this assembly starts on September 15. “The proposal to bring in the ordinance was cleared in the last cabinet meeting, and the amendment as such will get nod from the assembly in the coming session,” says principal secretary, housing, Vishavjeet Khanna. The matter is at present with the legal remembrancer for clearance.

Past record

In the previous chances, 10,154 illegal colonies applied for regularisation, of which 936 cases were disposed of and the remaining are still under process. Also, 4.3 lakh owners of plots and houses applied for regularisation, of which 2.9 lakh applications were cleared. The state government earned `777 crore as regularisation fee.

Estimates say there are about 10,000 more colonies that still have not applied; and there are 2-lakh houses in them. The ‘regularised tag’ will come after payment of compounding charges by colonisers, and through regularisation charges by individual property owners.

Once the notification of the ordinance is done — likely this month — the government is expected to give a three-month deadline. Officers say there’s sufficient time before the elections take place — due in March — to take in applications, which can then be processed even after a new government takes over. For now, those elections are what matters.

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