The failed case of ground rent for land tenure
The situation in January 2017
In Nagpur, the January 2017 Government Resolution (GR) on land-titles-for-all-bastis (informal settlements) was a landmark decision. Prior to this, as per the August 2014 GR, only bastis on land owned by the Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT) were eligible to access land titles. In Nagpur there are five government agencies that own land on which bastis exist — the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), NIT, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), State Government (Collector) and the Railways.
This blog (the second of a two-part series on land tenure rights in Nagpur) looks into the process of accessing land titles in bastis on land owned by the NIT.
Working with the people
The implementation process of providing land titles to these bastis was initially delayed, as the NIT was not able to finalise a survey agency to conduct the Plane Table Survey (PTS) that would determine land area of individual households and the entire settlement.
During this phase, in partnership with Shehar Vikas Manch (SVM), a city development forum working on housing and urban issues at the local level, YUVA’s interventions took the form of regular advocacy and follow-ups with the state government. The YUVA–SVM delegation met the NIT Chairman and presented concerns, and the survey process finally began in end-March 2018. NIT has 52 bastis on its land. In the first phase, 28 bastis — those on NIT land with land use categorised as residential as per the Development Plan of Nagpur City (2041) — were identified for the PTS. However, the pace of survey was slow, and as the months went by the people’s sense of discontentment increased. Finally, on 6 June 2018, NIT managed to give only 727 ownership titles.
YUVA–SVM continued to work together to enhance people’s awareness about their tenure rights through public dialogue in the Mohalla Sabhas, (SVM–YUVA promote this as part of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act process of decentralisation and decision-making at the basti level mandated under the Area Sabhas). Detailed information and updates about the survey were shared at every stage. Guidance was given on the PTS, the documents which needed to be submitted to access titles, and the ground rent provision mandated in the Ownership Title Certificate. Alongside awareness efforts, capacity building workshops on land tenure rights and its implementation were held with the active participation of community leaders.
At the workshops, community leaders voiced their concerns. At one such workshop Rajkumar Wanjari from Nandanvan Slum said, ‘With the regular announcement in the newspaper and looking at the pace of the PTS one can see that only few people have got ownership titles. This is clearly an attempt by the government to placate us before the Lok Sabha elections 2019, as we constitute a significant vote bank’.
Difficult GR provisions
As per the August 2016 GR, there are certain terms and conditions attached to be eligible for land titles. First, the formation of a co-operative society within two years of getting individual land titles. It must be noted that there is a need for training and awareness on forming co-operative housing societies.
Second, while distributing land titles, action should be taken to keep necessary reservations as per the provision of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act of 1966 (MRTP Act 1966) and the DCRs. This means that settlements not on residential land will either not be eligible for land tenure, or will require political intervention and pressure to take forward the process. The third condition incidentally states that if any amendment is required in the Development Control Regulation (DCR) it needs to be done at the level of the NIT Chairman and given for consideration to the State Government. This is a time-consuming process.
Fourth, residents have to pay land cost once they receive ownership titles. The one time plot size amount proposed is as follows: the first 500 sq. ft. of the plot would be exempt from paying land cost in the case of SC/ST/OBC/EWS households for residential structures only. The ready reckoner rate (the price of residential property, land or commercial property for a given area) would be applicable if the plot size exceeded 500 sq. ft. The charge would be 50% of the ready reckoner rate for residential plots in excess of 500 sq. ft and it would be 100% of the ready reckoner rate for commercial plots.
The condition of ground rent
A major condition was that residents of bastis on land owned by the NIT had to pay ground rent to NIT (to be paid under the terms of a lease by the owner of a building to the owner of the land on which it is built) once they received land titles.
Ground rent was not charged earlier to residents. Post receiving ownership titles, each household would have to pay ground rent. A decision to charge 2% rent of the lease premium as per the ready reckoner rate was taken by the NIT. Its newly appointed Trustee did not realise the implication of high ground rents for people in bastis. When the people started receiving high-value rent demands, they began their resistance.
Data received as per an RTI revealed that, in 2017–2018, the NIT sent rent notices in East Nagpur to 46 residents of Adarsh Nagar, 32 in Deputy Signals, 62 at Nehru Nagar, 50 at Panther Nagar, 52 in Prajapati Nagar and in West Nagpur 14 rent notices were sent.
In total, the NIT sent demand notes to 256 residents who were allotted land titles in East and West Nagpur. The ground rent demand was sent to every household eligible for ownership titles. Of them, only 106 residents were able to pay the amount demanded. Ground rent (as per the market rate) differs from area to area. Average ground rent that was charged to households was between INR 4,000–INR 8,000 annually.
The YUVA–SVM delegation met NIT representatives and requested that ground rent be charged on a nominal rate or on the basis of the earlier EWS scheme of NIT — this scheme was for urban poor to avail land at a nominal rate. In 1978, plots were given to the urban poor at a rate as low as INR 3 per sq. ft. The media also highlighted this demand.
Local politicians and corporators (elected representatives) stepped forward and demanded that the ground rent be scrapped. On 13 June, at the General Body Meeting of the NIT, a decision was taken to cancel ground rent entirely. The statement released by the NIT is an indication that the government does not want to anger the people before the elections.
YUVA–SVM has not advocated for this measure as people are willing to pay an affordable ground rent and it becomes a crucial tool to negotiate services within bastis. Moreover, free lease hold rights reinforce the narrative that informal settlement residents do not pay rent and hence should have no claim over the land. Many residents are happy with the cancellation of ground rent, not realising its latent consequences.
The road ahead
The ground rent matter seems to have been resolved for now. However, there are 23 other terms and conditions mentioned in the ownership title document (which residents get after the PTS) that need to be fulfilled to fully access land titles, and these need to be tackled. The most significant of these is the formation of a co-operative society within two years of getting ownership titles to land, without which the ownership title will be cancelled. Given these recent developments, and the pending requirements to be fulfilled, only time will tell how easy it will be for the residents of these settlements to own land on which their homes exist.
Nitin Meshram, Project Associate
This blog is the second of a two-part series on the struggle for land tenure rights in Nagpur. To read the first part, click here.