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Lax laws, land supply curbs spur violations

Civic agencies in the US cities demolish illegal buildings mostly without a notice

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 23:09 IST

Illegal construction of commercial and residential buildings has long resulted in encroachments, leading to haphazard growth of Indian cities. Unauthorised construction is largely a function of slack laws and high property prices. Under current laws, the state mostly owns urban land and local bodies like the MCD and BMC regulate building by-laws.

Shortage of housing remains urban India's biggest problem. The Tenth Five Year Plan estimates shortage of 22.4 million urban houses during the plan period (until 2007), out of which over 70 per cent would fall in middle and low-income brackets. And within the next 15 years 90 million urban houses would have to be built with an investment of over Rs 1,00,000 crore every year.

Urban India is bursting at the seams with a ten-fold population increase over the last century. It is estimated that by 2020, urban population will be 40 per cent-of the total population.

The challenge can't be met mainly because of inadequate and artificially low supply of land. A Pricewaterhouse Coopers study says if the ratio of land cost per square meter to GDP per capita for New Delhi is considered as the index at 100, the rate would be two in Kuala Lumpur, six in Sydney, nine in Tokyo, 52 in Bangalore and 115 in Mumbai. Land scarcity results in high real estate speculation. It also tempts property owners to either add rooms or encroach with the tacit approval of corrupt regulators and politicians.

Land cost is about 50 per cent of the total housing cost in India as against 24 per cent in the US, according to a McKinsey study. Irrational land use regulations, archaic acquisition policies, absence of clear title, high stamp duty and outdated rental laws have all stymied urban housing growth.

Realising the urban mess, the National Urban Renewal Mission has strongly suggested revision of by-laws to streamline the approval process of construction of buildings and development of sites, simplification of legal and procedural frameworks for conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes, repeal of Urban Land Ceiling act and reform of Rent Control Act. These measures, the mission believes, will enable smooth supply of land and houses for the middle and low-income categories of people.

Expensive and inadequate housing has an abysmal story to tell on urban poor. NSSO's 2002 survey reveals that about 40 per cent of the total slum population of India resides in the 35 one-million-plus cities. About 75 per cent of the slums are built on public land owned mostly by local bodies and state governments. Though, Mumbai and Delhi have often gone for slum demolition drives, unimaginative and unjust relocation has made solutions more complicated than the problems.

Unlike the MCD and BMC, most metros in the developed world have strict construction and building by-laws. In the US, the civic agencies demolish illegal buildings mostly without a notice. Most US states have passed laws for demolition of illegal structures. The Australian government imposes hefty penalty, five times the building cost on illegal constructions.

Perhaps a lesson for Delhi and Mumbai is that hazardours buildings and haphazard colonies would continue to mushroom until we are able to rein in gross violation of urban laws. Progressive and imaginative legislations as well as long-term legal reforms can help, as discussed in the next story, but the rule of law must be allowed to prevail before that.

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 23:09 IST