Saturday, April 17, 2021
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Sarma demands independent enquiry into allotment of land to Lulu Group

Viskhapatnam: EAS Sarma, IAS, former secretary to government of India has written yet again to the chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh government asking him not to go ahead with auction of 13.83 acres of land in S.No. 1011 near RK Beach. It was proposed to be given away to a UAE company, the Lulu Group and CMR for a convention hall. When there was public pressure the government had gone back and revoked the alienation orders. However, the latest reports say that the government is going ahead with the proposal to auction the land in order to raise revenue for itself.

According to Sarma, the entire land in question falls within the CRZ II limits and it is a part of an ecologically sensitive zone. He, therefore, requested the government to drop the idea of auctioning. Sarma has been writing letter to the government for many years arguing against alienation of the said land. He had enclosed all the correspondence he had done with the government. He particularly reminded of the letter dated 15 June 2020 he had written to the then chief secretary, Nilam Sawhney, making similar plea. He expressed his objection to selling away the government lands per say. There was another letter from him dated 13 August 2019 again to Nilam Sawhney expressing his surprise at the government for issuing GOMS. No. 172 (Rev) dated 12 June 2020 about the same public land near RK Beach. The GO spoke of monetising through auction of several large land parcels in Visakhapatnam and elsewhere in the State. He said, “In my view, the decision to sell such valuable urban land stretches is highly imprudent, as I had pointed out earlier in my letter dated 27 May 2020.  The IAS officer has argued that selling away government lands to raise funds would make the government to opt for this soft option instead of difficult option such as saving unnecessary expenditure and levying penalty on the encroachers into the government lands etc. He said there are serious improprieties and demanded an independent enquiry.

Sarma reminded Adityanath Das, chief secretary of AP government, that he listed his reasons, in his earlier letter, as follows:

  1. The government owns fairly large extents of lands in almost all towns and cities and their outskirts. As a result of rapid urbanisation, the value of these lands is skyrocketing, especially in view of the increasing scarcity of public land throughout the State. Therefore, the land assets of the State are equivalent to a highly valuable property that continuously appreciates in its value. 
  2. The demand for land for public amenities in urban agglomerations is increasing in leaps and bounds as the State is obligated under the Constitution to provide the basic amenities to the people. At present, the local authorities and the State govt agencies are not fully discharging those obligations as they should. Had they decided to meet those obligations fully, they would need large parcels of govt land for the purpose, as it will be highly expensive for the govt to buy land from private owners. 
  3. For example, one of the important obligations of the municipalities under the Constitution is to provide public space for parks, cremation grounds, community halls, night shelters for the homeless etc. If these facilities were to be set up, there will be no dearth of demand for public land in the urban areas. Every stretch of govt land, whether small or large in extent, will be needed for this purpose.
  4. Against the above background, it will not serve the public interest in the long run for the government to alienate its own lands to private individuals/ institutions, when its own land requirements stand unfulfilled.
  5. Since the land value is increasing every day, once the ownership of the land passes from the govt to a private person/ institution, in all likelihood, the latter will exploit the land value increase and profiteer by re-selling it, thus depriving the State of the differential value. In other words, any scheme such as the one in question will pave the way for private persons/ institutions to profiteer at the cost of the public at large. This is unacceptable. Many real estate developers are waiting to grab these plots and, I am afraid, that the govt is playing into their hands.
  6. The State govt is only a trustee of the public properties on behalf of the people and, in principle, it has no right to alienate the ownership of those properties to private persons/ institutions. Therefore, auctioning the lands as is being done at present will constitute a breach of the public trust.
  7. The land use policy of the govt is defined in GOMs No.571 dated 14-9-2012 enclosed). The land auctions now proposed violate this policy.
  8. As evident from Annexure IV (enclosed) to the auction notice, the plots put to auction are either vacant ones, some of them used for recreation purposes, or those having public structures. It is clear that those plots are in the heart of the urban areas and will be needed for providing parks or other public amenities, either now or in the future. The present govt cannot deprive its successors of the opportunity of using those plots for public purposes.

I would also suggest that selling public lands for raising resources is a soft option that will provide an alibi to the present govt for not taking other measures to minimise unproductive and wasteful expenditure and raise resources through more innovative means from those who can afford to provide such resources. For example, the State can levy a high penalty on influential encroachers of the public land, impose a deterrent penalty on violators of the environment laws and so on. 

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