While large industrial and infrastructure projects continue to fight an uphill task when it comes to buying land—a Business Standard news story points out as many as 280 cases challenging pending land acquisitions are already in the Supreme Court—there may not be any problem when it comes to projects within the boundaries of most cities. Business Standard cites a study by India Development Foundation (IDF) which tries to quantify just how much land is held by central ministries, state governments and local bodies—it does not talk of PSUs. Getting a complete list of the land holdings, especially unencumbered title deeds, it is true, will be a herculean task, but once this is done, this also means financing large infrastructure projects will be relatively easy. In the case of the Metropolitan Mumbai Regional Development Authority (MMRDA), the IDF study points out, the body leased out 13 hectares of land in 2006 and 2007 for R5,000 crore, a sum that was roughly ten times MMRDA’s annual infrastructure budget and five times the Mumbai Municipal Corporation budget. In the capital, the new colony for bureaucrats in Moti Bagh was funded by selling a small portion of land to a hotel company; a large part of the financing of the Delhi airport was based on allowing commercial use on a part of the 5,000 acres already earmarked for the airport.
The 13 major port trusts, IDF points out, hold around 100,000 hectares of land in all; Airports Authority of India controls 20,400 hectares around major airports, the Railways has identified 43,000 hectares as surplus (this is valued at $40 billion), the defence ministry has more than 7 lakh acres of land. In the case of Ahmedabad, a pilot study by IDF found 32% of all developed and developable land—this excludes roads/parks/water-bodies/railways, etc—in the city is owned by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The value of this land is estimated at well over R55,000 crore—that means, if it is monetised, it can pay for all the city’s infrastructure needs over the next two decades (as estimated by the expert committee on urban infrastructure). In the case of the ambitious Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) which is trying to acquire land in various parts of the country, a R40,000 crore project—2 million square feet of exhibition halls, 6,000-seat convention centre, air-cargo complex, 3,500 hotel rooms, etc—was delayed by seven years for want of land, but that was only because DDA which had possession of the land refused to transfer it to DMICDC. Given this, for urban infrastructure projects, neither land nor funds are likely to be a binding constraint.