In Kerala, everything looks good on paper, especially policies and their drafts. The draft of the land use policy, prepared during the tenure of the LDF Government, is also one such; but it continues to remain just that - a draft.
Dr V S Vijayan, who was the chairman of the drafting committee, told ‘Express’ that he had no idea why the land use policy never went beyond the draft stage, even though the role of land mafia could not be ruled out.
‘’I had met the Revenue Minister several times, but unfortunately nothing came out of it,’’ he said. The other drafting committee members included scientists R V G Menon and A S K Nair, Land Use Board member Sajith Babu and environmentalist M K Prasad, among others.
Hyped to be a revolutionary policy after the historic Land Reforms Act, it sought a check on unscientific land use practices in the state, especially indiscriminate construction and levelling of paddy-fields. The then Revenue Minister K P Rajendran had even put up the draft policy for public debate.
Unfortunately, even while nearly 12 lakh houses in the state remain vacant, the draft policy that envisions housing facility for all, at least ‘a bit of a land and a small house’ for the landless, remains in the cold storage. At the time the draft was formulated, the number of vacant houses was just 7.3 lakh as per the 2001 census.
‘’As per the current census, almost 10.6 per cent of the houses in the state are vacant. In 2001, it was only 7.8 percent. The rate of increase of the number of houses is much more than the rate of increase of the population,’’ said A N Rajeev, deputy director of Census Operations.
The land use policy proposes rationing of land used for housing, agriculture and industrial purposes. ‘’The vacant buildings cause a huge drain of natural resources which could otherwise be used by the needy, by those who do not have even a single house. If the land use policy had been in place, there would have been a system for rationing of natural resources,’’ said R Sreedhar co-ordinator of the state-based Green organisation ‘Thanal.’
An action plan of the draft demanded restructuring of ceiling on land mortgage loans to control unbridled construction boom and also land speculations. Besides, the draft policy had called for legal provisions vested with local bodies, who could take possession of the houses lying vacant for more than two years and utilise them till the period when the owners demand them for their stay.
‘’The policy had proposed completing an inventory of the land and the mode of use and making the land records perfect. Such a policy is very much needed in the state. If modifications are required, they should modify it. Going ahead without a land use policy will turn out to be catastrophic,’’ said Dr Vijayan, who had given a copy of the draft to Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, when he was the Revenue Minister.
Apart from restrictions on land use, the policy also had guidelines on waste management, construction, quarrying, water-harvesting systems, non-conventional energy and mining.