The State blurs the distinction between legal and illegal — and punishes the poor

Source– The post is based on the article “The State blurs the distinction between legal and illegal — and punishes the poor” published in The Indian Express on 6th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS1- Urbanisation

Relevance– Issues related to land in urban areas

News– The article explains the issues of illegal encroachment in urban areas.

Why is illegal encroachment of land prevalent in India?

Encroachment on land belonging to government authorities is a big issue. This is despite the strictures of the master plan.

In our cities, land zoned for agricultural purposes has been converted to farmhouses. These areas eventually transform from being “unauthorised” to “authorised”.

In case of greenfield developments, land politics takes place. Complex financial and administrative arrangements are utilised by both private and government agents for illegal acts upon the land.

Village lands acquired by the state  are frequently taken over by well-off citizens and private developers who build private property across them. The land taken over by private companies and individuals eventually converts to legal estate.

Poor migrants to the city also occupy spaces in ad hoc ways. This requires dealing with the state, land mafias, corrupt bureaucracies and the original landowners who sell their lands for “illegal” occupation. It produces a fragile urban environment.

What are the challenges related to illegal encroachment of land?

The government action on illegal occupation depends on who occupies this land. It leads to dislocation of people. It institutionalised the illegality that is nurtured by the state.

The strategy of dealing with encroachments through demolitions and evictions mainly affect the poor. It damages already vulnerable lives while also failing as public policy.  It offers no long-lasting solution to the problems of making better cities in any way.

It diminishes public welfare by depriving populations of educational, financial, and residential security without any meaningful positive outcomes. It cannot offer any solutions to real-world problems like housing, or public infrastructure.

What is the way forward to the problem of encroachment?

There is a need for holistic urban planning that is not fractured. Multiple authorities should not be allowed free play over lands owned by them. This requires thinking of the city as an organism with complex social needs, rather than merely an economic entity.

Courts should recognise their role as protectors of citizens from the arbitrariness of state action. Cities need to develop a sense of compassion for urban life at its margins.

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