KIADB: continuing land-grab tradition with impunity

The residential and commercial establishment around Kanakapura road in Bengaluru. -Photo/ Anand Bakshibangalore

What would you call an organisation that boasts of propelling industrial development, but keeps acquiring land without having any short-term or long-term plan? What if it issues preliminary notification expressing intent to acquire land, but for 19 years does not move to initiate land acquisition proceedings? What would be your reaction if you find that it has failed to respond to thousands of applications asking for allotment of land to set up small scale industries from promoters?

An audit report that was tabled in the Karnataka Assembly in February this year voiced scathing criticism of Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board. Established in 1966, KIADB acquires lands as per KIAD Act (1966), which comes across as brazenly an anti-farmer legislation.

CAG auditors remarked that land acquisition was neither demand-driven nor trend-based. They also indicted the agency for going ahead with notifying lands to be acquired without first undertaking techno-feasibility studies.

As per a previous CAG audit report, out of a total of 41,126.68 acres of land that was acquired, KIADB had developed 32,398.65 acres and allotted 26,524.84 acres of land to 14,435 industrial units till March 2011. Audit also stated that KIADB was reporting 3,510.93 acres as developed vacant (un-allotted) land.

This year’s audit report states that as of June 2017, KIADB was sleeping over an idle inventory of 6,593 acres of developed (and still un-allotted) land, valued at Rs 6,000 crore and another 30,507.57 acres of undeveloped land. This means, the extent of acquired but undeveloped land has gone up from 8,728.03 acres of land to a whopping 30,507.57 acres, more than a three-fold rise, in just a matter of six years!

CAG auditors further pointed out that out of these undeveloped lands, as much as 28,719.29 acres was held by KIADB under preliminary notification. Roughly, this area would be equivalent to 10 times the combined size of Electronics City and Koramangala. CAG auditors also pointed out that 65% of the area had remained pending under the preliminary notification for more than five years at the time of writing this audit report.

Shouldn’t that land lying under preliminary notification for more than five years be returned to the original land-owners as per the Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation (LARR) Act, 2013? On a close reading, one understands that KIADB has kept acquiring land under KIAD Act, 1966. Under Section 28(1), such a preliminary notification doesn’t even require techno-feasibility studies. In the last performance audit, CAG auditors revealed shocking instances of KIADB going about acquisition without paying due attention to the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) prepared by statutory planning authorities. The audit findings in this year’s report confirms that KIADB and Karnataka government have brazenly refused to learn any lessons from previous audits.

This is not the first time that CAG auditors have shown us what is wrong with our land acquisition laws. So far, CAG auditors have brought to us performance audits on land acquisition by industrial development corporations in Odisha, Goa, Kerala, West Bengal. This year, land acquisition by industrial development agencies in Karnataka and Haryana got added to this list.

Land in limbo

In a section that reads refreshingly pro-farmer, CAG auditors observed that once land is notified for acquisition under this section of KIAD Act, 1966, farmers “cannot sell, lease, mortgage, change character of the land, carry out improvements, etc.” This, in effect, creates a situation wherein thousands of acres of land has been lying in limbo.

CAG auditors commented on this anomaly in the KIAD Act and Regulations stating, “KIAD regulations also did not specify timeline for completion of acquisition procedure. In the absence of such timeline, land often remained in the initial stages of acquisition for an inordinately long period causing hardships to the owners on account of the restriction stated above”.

While CAG auditors have not given details of 45 such cases of land under preliminary notification, they didn’t hesitate to draw up a table pointing out that in two cases, final notification had remained “outstanding for more than 15 years”!

What do farmers lose when their land remains hanging fire under preliminary notification as per section 28(1) of KIAD Act, 1966?

CAG auditors states, “…undue delay in either completion of land acquisition process or deletion put the land owners to hardships as they neither got the land compensation nor were they able to convey the land since it ceased to be freehold on account of preliminary notification”. Without mincing words, CAG auditors pronounced their conclusion on this aspect by stating, “The inordinate delay in completing the land acquisition process was indicative of systemic lapses and the approach was aided by the absence of time limits in KIAD Act/Regulation”.

Replying to this, the Karnataka government stated in December 2017, “Action would be taken to amend the KIAD Act to stipulate timeline for completion of acquisition process”. CAG auditors observe, “However, the reply was silent on the action proposed to be taken in respect of land still held under preliminary notification”.

CAG auditors have recommended that “priorities for acquisition of land should be decided based on trends of allotment to regulate idle inventory of land held in position”. They have also asked government to “prescribe timeline for completion of land acquisition process and make sure that all land acquisition instances be preceded by techno-feasibility reports”.

Will the newly elected Karnataka assembly take up a debate on the scathing criticism of KIADB? Will the Public Accounts Committee take up this report for discussion urgently?

(Himanshu Upadhyaya is faculty at Azim Premji University (APU); Abhishek Punetha recently completed his Masters in Public Policy and Governance from APU, Bengaluru)

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KIADB: continuing land-grab tradition with impunity

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