Or state-sponsored land grab?
In a jaw-dropping move, the Uttar Pradesh government has converted 2,367 sq km of the countryside along the Yamuna Expressway, connecting Greater Noida with Agra, into urban land.
In a country where policy to create new towns has not ventured beyond the 50 sq km allowed as the maximum area of a Special Economic Zone, this is welcome.
But not so, the manner in which the changed land-use is going to be converted into actual towns.
The government proposes to acquire the land from farmers and sell it to real estate developers.
The only good thing about this move is that the conversion of land-use happens before land acquisition: this makes for a higher price than if the land were still farmland at the time of acquisition.
But that said, acquisition at a fixed price does not address the multiple challenges thrown up: what will the erstwhile farmer’s future source of livelihood be?
Is the farmer assured that his price captures even a fraction of the gain in real estate values that will occur once the area gets developed?
Is there a mechanism to claw back to the farmer a portion of future capital gains or to convert upfront receipts of the farmer into a stream of future incomes?
Is the process of selecting real estate developers for allocation of land transparent and fair?
There might not be unique ways to find satisfactory answers to these questions, but those questions need to be answered to avoid the kind of violent farmer protest that the same Yamuna Expressway threw up earlier this year.
Nor is that all. We need extensive urban planning to ensure harmonious, energy-efficient, inclusive living.
Roads and public transport mechanisms, power and gas utilities, schools, colleges, playgrounds, stadia, hospitals, commercial areas, vertical living and working to save energy, networks of underground pipes for power and communication cables, fuels, water supply and sewerage all these have to be planned for.
Low-income housing must be part of the master plan.
And the master plan, once finalised after consultation with all stakeholders, must be enforced, rather than used to extract money in return for exemptions. We need all this, before we start to cheer.
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