Saturday, August 28, 2010

Land and Housing Reforms: Innovations and opportunities due to the floods.

The destruction of life and property of people in this flood has developed the need and rationale for launching some innovative policies by the government.Some real resource transfer has to take place from the actual or/and potential domain of the rich and the powerful.Roti, Kapra and Makan are the key concept which the ruling party has not abandoned.There are others on the political spectrum who may ,even though grudgingly, support non-traditional and innovative actions
Classical Land Reforms are out of fashion and out of sync .There is no possibility of forcibly taking away some or all of the land owned by the big land lords.This may be a dream of arch-communists but there are practical ,philosophical and ideological issues involved in such confiscation.But there are other possibilities to provide some means or assets to the poor especially in the context of the current floods.

Government does not have the money nor the power that comes as a result of a revolution.Whatever flood assistance that the federal and provincial governments would be able to give to the flood victims would be out of the aid and assistance of community.However government has surplus land and the power to change land use , and appreciate its value.It can divert the surplus so generated to the landed aristocracy and the politically or socially powerful elite as has been the case in the past ,or divert the surplus to the poor.We shall examine how this can be done.

First of all ,there is government land mostly in rural areas,which can be gifted to the landless and also to the flood victims of a certain category.More land could be developed as well . Due to the increased supply of water as a result of new storage dams,more land would come into the irrigation system,which should be passed on to the landless poor.However this is a rather long term measure to be implemented when new dams are built and commissioned.Government is already distributing underutilized forest land among the landless.

Some conditional land leases should be issued to the flood victims of the Kachcho land who are cultivating land parcels there and are also living there.Because they do not have titles ,they did not leave their places for the fear of Qabza by others.There are flood control issues due to which permanent and water restricting structures should not be built.Necessary flood control measures could be built in the land leases and the amendments in the law if required.

Under new irrigation schemes,whenever these come up, trade-able water rights could be awarded to the landless,which he could sell to the willing customer or use it as his collateral or share in the distribution of agricultural output and profits.In this way he becomes partner in place of a surf.

In urban land laws ,provisions for high -rise building societies could be introduced,where virtual plots in the third dimensions are allot-able.Real state developers could be encouraged to develop multi-purpose projects,where in in lieu of subsidized land or free land use conversion,a certain percentage of 3-D plots are allotted to the poor.Currently a lot of money changes hands on conversion of agricultural or residential land to the commercial one.Some fee does go to the local or provincial government but most of the surplus is siphoned away by the builders,landowners and the social and political elite.So the name of the game is to create policy or innovation surplus and divert it to the poor.

There is a lot of government land that is available on the periphery of Karachi near Sohrab(outside Karachi limits) goth and in district Thatta that could be allotted to the flood victims especially from the inundated towns of Jacobabad, Larkana and Thatta.If Sindh has to develop regional economies are to be established ,as has happened around Lahore.Karachi itself would benefit from the regional economic development as Lahore has. Karachi's' economy has been stagnating for many years now. One of the reason is lack of close geographical interactions and resource reservoirs.Every body would benefit. However the idea would fail if it is used for political and ethnic manipulation and advantage.

I would like to add a caveat here.Last PML(N) government headed by Mr.Nawaz Sharif introduced an innovative housing policy and strategy for urban areas by transferring surplus government land and plots for low-cost public housing projects.A good innovative project was ,however,reportedly marred by construction scams.There was no need of involving government
in construction by a party which believes so much in private sector.That project perhaps be revived in one form or the other.Some residual land or assets may still be there.Musharraf government quietly put a lid on it.No NAB case has been filed wrt this project apparently.May be,there is one or a few.I am not sure.

In another blog,I have proposed buying surplus land from large landowners of 500 acres plus and creating an economic and tax regime that may facilitate such land transaction between the two.It would be quite feasible to acquire substantial under-utilized land from the large land owners.I would not repeat that here for time and space reasons.But who would bell the cat.Government of the day is forced to face one crisis after the other.Innovative policies require peace of mind and a supportive political regime.

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