Public Land: The Untold Story about its Misuse!

The state-owned enterprises in India own more than one million acres of unused land. Misuse of public land at the expense of our development.

Land is an essential element for economic development. The cost of land is the biggest component for the price of any property in India today.

High cost of land indicates its relative scarcity. But is land really scarce, and if so, how scarce?

According to some estimates, the state-owned enterprises in India own more than one million acres of unused land. With the widespread lack of clear titles and inadequate records, even the government does not know how much land it owns. For decades, the government has been mismanaging the public land at the expense of our development.

What would happen if this unused land is put to use?

Once these vast tracts of unused land are unlocked, they can be used for productive purposes such as setting up industries, educational and health institutions and for affordable housing.

Let us see, how only three Centre Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) have misused the public land held by them.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited

The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), operating in the telecom sector (incorporated on 15th September 2000) holds vast tracts of land across the country.

According to Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG), the company inherited 12,194 plots measuring around 10,000 acres of land in 2000. After its formation, BSNL acquired another 852 acres on lease across the country. The total book value of land owned by BSNL was around 3483.44 crore  (as per the estimates of the Management Information System (MIS).

Through the years, BSNL has mismanaged the land acquired by them. As on 2012, 802 acres of land is kept unused. The company owns 30 acres of unused land in Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Thiruvananthapuram alone.

Around 210 acres of BSNL land is under encroachment. The company has made no efforts to protect these land parcels from getting encroached.

The land inherited by BSNL in 2000 was not transferred in the name of company till 2012. Because of which the company cannot sell these idle properties. This also gave rise to illegal encroachments.

Department of Posts

The Department of Posts (DoP) is a postal company under the Ministry of Communications. The CAG has reported that the department acquired 1188 acres of land during 1970 and 1980, to construct postal offices and staff quarters but were lying unused across the country.

The current value of unused land measuring 167 acres in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and Maharashtra have risen to 209 crore from its actual acquisition cost 4.33 crore.

About 80 acres of land acquired at the cost of 13.94 crore is under encroachment. Out of which the current value of 18 acres had risen to 63 crore from its original value  3.59 crore.

In 1978, the company acquired 100 acres on lease in cities like Mumbai and New Delhi and kept them vacant and paid 3.37 crore during the period up to 2014 as lease rent.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited

In 1963, Odisha Government allotted 12,000 acres of land belonging to people from 11 different villages to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). However, HAL required only 3121.15 acres.

Then why did Odisha government allot them 12,000 acres of land?

HAL has allotted 6,000 acres of land to Central University of Odisha and Cobra Battalion. Currently, 2918.53 acres of land under HAL is vacant in Bhubaneshwar.

In Koraput, Odisha out of 3,121.15 acres of land under the HAL 50.21 acres is encroached by the local villagers for more than 25 years.

This shows how the government and their officials have failed to protect the wealth of people. Instead, they have mismanaged it and created an artificial scarcity of land in the country.

These are just a few examples. Huge tracts of public land are being misused by many other CPSEs, government agencies, and ministries etc. We have made an attempt to put together such misused public wealth in our Public Wealth Wiki.

Keeping this wealth away from use imposes a cost on everyone. Freeing up all such misused and unused public wealth has the potential of reducing this artificial scarcity of land.