The land scams are shaking the Telangana polity. No government is immune to the allegations of authorities turning a blind eye to the unabated encroachments of government lands.
The land mafia with active connivance of politicians in power has been usurping the invaluable government lands. The politician, bureaucrat, business man and criminal nexus are in full spate to alienate these government lands which can be used for multiple public purposes.
The skyrocketing prices of land especially in the large urban agglomerations have endangered the security of the lands owned by the government.
The absence of proper revenue records despite advances in information technology that can clearly record and document the lands accentuates the process of alienation of government lands.
Lack of transparency is another culprit. Corruption in the revenue administration adds fuel to the fire. Middlemen rule the roost in the registration offices.
The loopholes and inadequacies in the law are often exploited by the vested interests to their advantage. Protracted litigation serves their purpose.
A comprehensive survey of land records with a clear statement of ownership rights has to be undertaken. Efforts earlier in this direction did not fructify.
Lack of funds, political will and absence of proper records have impeded the process. But, such a comprehensive survey is essential to decide on the ownership rights on every piece of land in the state. It has to be conducted once for all, however complex and cumbersome the process may be.
The mapping of government lands should include identification and fencing of such lands. Productive use of these lands deters the encroachers from claiming them.
All the encroached government lands should be reclaimed. A new law can be enacted if needed. Such government lands so identified and fenced should be formed into a land bank.
The government can even invite private land owners to provide their lands on lease to government land bank. A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) can be floated to develop these lands in public private partnership model to reap the recurring commercial value from such lands.
Anecdotal reports indicate that land sharks capture unused government lands. Yet another way of protecting and productively using government lands is to develop urban agriculture projects on government lands.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of United Nations has also indicated that urban agriculture would have multiple benefits. Organic farming can be encouraged to develop horticultural gardens on these vacant government lands.
This improves the green cover in the city besides providing quality vegetables and fruits to the city populace at reasonable prices. Urban Self Help Groups (SHGs) of poor women can be constituted to take up such projects.
Besides, protecting government lands from encroachment such initiative can help in improving urban ecology while empowering urban poor to an extent. Other innovative measures to identify, protect and productively utilise urban land spaces owned by government should be explored. Strict legal enforcement to prevent further encroachments is the need of the hour.