What Amit Bhaduri and Romila Thapar (Edit Page article, Nov. 9) say about negotiating between forest dwellers and corporations wanting their land has a parallel in urban agglomerations.

When the New Bombay (now Navi Mumbai) project was started in 1970, the plan was to acquire 344 sq km of agricultural land on the mainland east of Bombay. One suggestion made by the urban planners at the time was that the land owners should be made shareholders of a kind in the new city development corporation. Their shares would not be transferable (to protect them from exploitation) but could be inherited, thus keeping them in the family for future generations. The corporation was expected to generate a profit from sales of developed land, which would be used to finance physical and social infrastructure, thus making the project self-financing. It was suggested that a predetermined part of the profit could provide a regular income to the original land owners. The proposal was rejected outright by the Land Acquisition department of the new city corporation as fanciful and unnecessary. Forty years later, perhaps our democracy has deepened and our notions of equity altered sufficiently that such a proposal might look less surreal today.

Another puzzling development has been the allocation of 2.5 hectares of forest land to each forest dweller. Surely there are some lands that should be held as a kind of commons, owned by everyone in general and no one in particular. Such a notion should equally apply to lands within urban agglomerations, however large or small, including village settlements. The land within the settlement is a kind of commons, held in trust for the common good. Parcels might be demarcated for individual use, but if the allottee does not use the land for years and years it should revert to the commons for re-allotment. Any change in the value of the land in the interim belongs to the commons and not to the allottee. The notion that land within a settlement, once demarcated, is in the nature of private property, and appreciation is to the credit of the allottee (who has done nothing to promote its value) should be replaced by the notion that land, if not used, is common property and may be deployed for other uses. If it is used then of course the allottee may continue to enjoy its use and benefits. If not, it reverts to the commons. Such an approach would incidentally greatly simplify the redevelopment of slums, where the original paper “owners” of the property are simply out of the picture and the land can be re-assigned for residential accommodation of its current occupants, among others.

Shirish B. Patel,

Mumbai

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