“We Have to Use Land Much More Carefully”

URBANET spoke to Shri Saranyan Krishnan about the particularities of urban land governance in India’s state of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state, constitutes about 5.96 per cent of India’s population and occupies 4 per cent of the land area. The state is currently facing demographic changes, economic growth, and social developments which will exert strong and competing demands on the finite natural resources. Especially land is a scarce resource, with a per capita availability of only 0.18 ha, and is expected to decrease further due to climate change and increasing population.

Since the 1960s, the amount of cultivated land in Tamil Nadu has decreased sharply – from 7.32 million ha to 5.57 million ha – as land was needed in response to an increasing demand for industrial, housing, and infrastructure development. The land put to non-agricultural uses has sharply increased by 42 per cent, from 1.3 million ha to 2.1 million ha during the same period.

To understand the land use situation in Tamil Nadu, URBANET interviewed Shri Saranyan Krishnan, Principal Secretary, Housing and Urban Development, Government of Tamil Nadu, Chennai.

What are the historical challenges of urban land governance in India and in Tamil Nadu in particular?

Shri Saranyan Krishnan: When the British came to India, they introduced their land revenue mechanisms and systems that were fundamental for mapping the land. Thus, different land administrative systems emerged in different parts of the country, for instance, the Ryotwari system in southern and the Zamindari system in eastern parts of India.

In the Zamindari system, big farmers – Zamidar – were landowners who collected land tax revenues on behalf of the state. The small farmers were like tenants and paid rent and taxes to the Zamidar. In this system, the focus was on the landowners, who controlled the entire process of collecting rent and taxes and submitted a huge part of it to the central authority. In this structure, land administration stopped at the district level.

The Ryotwari system, which was introduced in southern parts of India between the 1790s and 1800s, was completely different. Here, the state owned the land and alloted it to cultivators. Based on the amount of returns from agriculture, the occupants paid a share as tax. If the occupants needed any improvements to be made on the land, they could ask the state to do so. There was an administrative structure that reached all the way into the villages and a direct linkage between state and the cultivator which eliminated the role of middle-men. In cases where an occupant did not cultivate the land for three years in a row, it could be resumed by the government.

Tamil Nadu’s land governance has emerged out of the Ryotwari system. Accordingly, the state’s administration reaches trough all levels, with the state being in control over what happens to the land. When land is to be used for purposes other than agriculture, Tamil Nadu has effective mechanisms to administer this industrial land and to promote its effective usage. For large industries, we have the State Industrial Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT), which was set up in the mid-1960s, and for small industries there is the State Industrial Development Corporation (SIDCO). Both runindustrial estates across the state.

Prior to recent changes in the Land Acquisition Act, land was often acquired by the state on behalf of the industries. Agriculturally unproductive land (dry land) used to be low-priced,whereas agriculturally productive land (wet land) used to be much more valuable. In the last 15 to 20 years, demand for land dedicated to industrial, housing, and infrastructure development has increased due to significant economic advancements. In turn, dry land became more valuable, as it could be easily converted for other uses such as commercial or residential purposes. Wet land became less valuable because of its low-lying, flood prone characterstics.

It used to be that, whenever a central project like a large Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) was planned, the state was asked to provide land either at concessional rates or for free. The emphasis was on capital investment needed for the realisation ofPSUs—land was considered an an almost freely available resource.

Today, the situation has changed completely. The population pressure on land has significantly gone up. We have to use land much more carefully, because we need land for agricultural purposes to ensure food security. In addition, we also need to dedicate land for residential and commercial purposes to ensure economic benefits.

There are a number of government agencies that influence land use, such as the Revenue Department, the Forest Department, the Public Works Department, etc.The Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD) is responsible for planning the use of land within the state. The emphasis of land use is primarily on urbanisation, and there is a need to integrate all agencies into the planning process in order to ensure public land is protected for its most appropriate use. With technological support like the use of Geographic Information Systems, integrated land use planning can successfully be implemented today.

How does Tamil Nadu plan to tackle the problem of a growing peri-urban population demanding housing, basic urban services, etc.?

Shri Saranyan Krishnan: In the city of Chennai, but also in the second tier cities of Madurai and Coimbatore, the population has grown into the cities’ surrounding areas. We do periodic rezoning, during which the boundary limits of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are expanded. This happens in order to include these areas into the administrative catchment area of the city, with the objective to provide high-quality urban services. This also gives the ULBs a chance to earn better revenue. Furthermore, a recommendation was made by the fifth State Finance Commission to give peri-urban panchayats (village administrations) a special status, by which they can collect slightly higher property taxes as compared to the ULBs, so that they are in a position to provide better services.

Also, when planning the development of a particular urban district, the peri-urban neighbouring areas are integrated into the planning process. Thus, the development of urbanisable areas is planned in advance.

The growing industrialisation has led to major land conversion. How are you planning for better and efficient land use in the future?

Shri Saranyan Krishnan: There is a need to take a second look at some regulations. For example in areas outside Chennai, no more than 50 per cent of one plot can be used by for industrial purposes. This means that you are forcing industries to buy twice the land that is actually required to set up the industry. In Japan, for example, the industries can use every inch of available land. They plan it in a reasonable way that leaves enough space for movement.

So far, it is not required from industries to designate extra space as a green belt on their plot. This is rather a common feature of large industrial areas in other countries. We are in the process of revising our regulation.

Another way of implementing efficient land use to increase plot coverage, that is, promoting an intensified usage of land rather than allowing industries to sprawl across every parcel of land available by increasing the Floor Space Index. This would also help in densifying specific areas.

What does the future of land governance hold for Tamil Nadu? And how does it contribute to balancing economic growth with environmental and social development?

Shri Saranyan Krishnan: This is probably the most critical part that needs to be addressed. A significant part of industrial development and business-friendly policies is about making cheap land available for the industry. This is one area where the state can contribute to positive social development: instead of an industry acquiring land cheaply by buying it from poor farmers, the state can acquire the land at a fair price and sell it to the industry at a subsidised rate.

We need to realise that a subsidy of this nature is paid directly or indirectly: such policy works positively in two ways, as it brings more employment and technological advancements while it also considers the situation of low-income farmers. There should be a transparent system for this kind of measures.

Another important aspect of social development is that the state government has welcomed the recent Land Acquisition Act, which ensures that landowners get higher, fairer prices for their land.

We have customised the Act to the Tamil Nadu context, with considerations about industrial land as well as about land required for roads and highways. We try to balance social and economic development.

We are currently working towards a land pooling policy, where the state acquires land parcels and provides them with infrastructure. Some part of the land is given back to the original owners, to enable them to realise the appreciation in land values while some is sold by the state to make up for its investment, promoting efficient and sustainable land development in peri-urban areas. One goal of the policy is to use available funding efficiently. We ensure that the original landowner gets back a portion of the developed land after creating necessary infrastructure. This addresses the issue of land being bought at throw away prices from poor people ,generating huge profits for the rich.

Especially in the field of land acquisition, we need to have strict rules and mechanisms that ensure economic development while minimising negative social effects.

Shri Saranyan Krishnan

Shri Saranyan Krishnan

Mr Krishnan is currently the Principal Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu’s Housing and Urban Development Department. He holds full additional charge as Managing Director of the New Tirupur Area Development Corporation, Vice Chairman in-charge of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, and Chairman at Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. He holds a master's degree in economics and is a member of the Indian Administrative Services.
Shri Saranyan Krishnan

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