How much land does the Indian govt own? About 9 times the size of Delhi
The government of India is finally getting some idea of how much land it owns. According to information provided to the Centre by 41 of the 51 Union ministries and 22 of over 300 public sector enterprises, the government owns at least 13,505 square km, with the number expected to rise as more data comes in.
A chunk of this land – about nine times the size of Delhi (1,483 sq km) – could be monetised or used for housing and other infrastructure projects, officials said.
The government started the process of making an inventory of its land last year. Details are being uploaded to the Government Land Information System (GLIS), a first-of-its-kind centralised database created by the ministry of electronics and information and monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The GLIS portal records total area, geo-positioning maps, and details such as ownership rights.
According to the portal, the railways is the biggest landowner among Union ministries, and owns 31,063 land parcels spread over 2,929 sq km. On previous occasions, the ministry has given varying figures of the land it owns. “Though the track record of the railways, as well as other government agencies, on land asset management is poor, data uploaded on the GLIS portal is easily verifiable (because of the level of details provided),” said an official from the housing and urban affairs ministry.
The defence ministry, which owns a large share of the government’s land holding, has given only partial details citing security concerns. It has uploaded data about 383.62 sq km of its total land assets. In a 2010-11, a Comptroller and Auditor General report had pegged defence land holding at approximately 7,000 sq km.
In 2012, a committee headed by former finance secretary Vijay Kelkar had recommended monetising the government’s unutilised and under-utilised land to finance infrastructure projects in urban areas. Some states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat have started raising funds by leasing out land to the private sector.
The move to make an inventory has been welcomed by experts, many of whom see it as a step towards better utilisation of government land.
“Land is a public resource and it is scarce. Unless it is properly valued, the government will never know whether it is overusing land,” said Shubhashis Gangopadhyay, founder and research director at India Development Foundation, an independent research organisation. “Monetising land for infrastructure is not only a noble goal but also necessary to optimise the use of resources for development.”
Ram Singh, professor of economics at the Delhi School of Economics, said this was long overdue. “Due to excessive holdings, a precious but scarce economic resource remains unutilised. This generates an artificial scarcity of land for developmental purposes, and increases project costs,” he said. Singh suggested that India learn from the British government, which provides details of all its land and buildings to the public.
“People are invited to suggest better usage for them under a ‘right to contest’. It (British government) has promised to release excess land whose current use it cannot justify,” he said.
Asked why some ministries and central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) are yet to give details of their total land holdings, housing ministry officials said there was some resistance to providing specific information about surplus, unutilised, under-utilised or encroached land.
Despite directions from the PMO, information on surplus land hasn’t been forthcoming. Except the department of fertilizers, which has declared surplus land of about 17 sq km, none of the ministries or CPSEs have provided these details, an official said.
The NDA government, meanwhile, has started work on the next phase of the project, in which it plans to dispose of the land of sick and loss-making CPSEs. A sub-committee headed by the secretary of the department of public enterprises (DPE) is reviewing the guidelines for land disposal.
A government source said the panel has suggested that first priority while selling unutilised land should be given to affordable housing – one of the government’s key priorities under its Housing for All programme.