Classifying land into different groups should help concentrate the required infrastructure in them
It is hoped that the Land Use Act, 2019 will bring an end to the haphazard use of arable land, especially in the promotion of unplanned, chaotic urbanisation taking place right across the country. The Land Use Bill, prepared by the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation and passed by the Parliament last week, was signed into law by the President on Friday. Apart from classifying land into different categories, the Act has for the first time introduced the concept of land banking and penalties for not using land for a specific purpose. In recent decades, agricultural land has been increasingly lying fallow, with the village youths in the millions migrating to the Gulf or elsewhere in search of a better future, leaving no one to tend the fields. In many cases, it has become more lucrative to dispose of the land altogether to the landsharks. In the absence of the Act, unscrupulous land developers have been fragmenting fertile land into small residential plots wherever they feel like it, without so much as a thought to what this does to food production in the country.
Land has now been classified into 10 categories, namely, agricultural; residential; commercial; industrial; mining and mineral; forest; river, stream, pond and wetland; public use; cultural and archaeological; and others. One pragmatic aspect of the new Act is that the land bank will pool land belonging to different people and lease it to someone who wants to start a large commercial agro-farm. As things stand right now, in a country with roughly 30 million people, there are as many land plots. So if Nepal is keen on increasing agricultural output and putting a brake on the increasing food imports that run into billions of rupees every year, land banking should prove a very progressive move of the government.
The Act is not without people’s misgivings, though. One such grievance is that the government is classifying private land on its own discretion, without consulting the owners. Since only sale of land for housing fetches a good price, branding land under any other category will not do justice to the land owner. Yet another query is if a farmer will be able to build a house on land that has been earmarked for agriculture. Transfer of ownership of the land that a landless squatter has been occupying for 10 years is also being dissented. There are certainly a lot of grey areas in the legislation, which will require clarification. But the hunch is that it will do a lot more good than bad in the long run. For one, designating land into different categories should help concentrate the required infrastructure in them, such as irrigation and rural roads on farm land; water, railways and power lines in the industrial zones; and power, gas, water and sewerage utilities in the residential areas. It will free plenty of land for agriculture and industry, making it one step easier for investors to do business in Nepal. Well-planned towns and cities, quite different from the disorganised ones we are used to, might also be in the offing. But all this will depend on how strictly the Act is put into practice, without being influenced by the pressures from different quarters.
The Kathmandu Valley Public Transport Management Authority Bill has been registered in the National Assembly with a view to making the Valley’s public transport system more effective. It will mainly regulate the Valley’s public transport system, which will remain effective for the next five years. All public vehicles, including buses, taxis, monorail, rail, light rail, cable car and sky rail, will have to register with the authority.
The authority has been given power to make plans, policies and strategies related to public transport. The authority shall work in tandem with the federal, provincial and local levels to manage the public transport. However, Province-3, which also takes care of the Valley’s development, has opposed the bill, saying that the federal government encroached upon its jurisdiction. Instead of tabling the bill focussing solely on the Valley, the central government should have brought an integrated bill covering the entire country. The provincial government shall have no role in managing the Valley’s transport system if the proposed bill is passed as it is. The idea of federalism is to delegate power to the sub-national governments, not to concentrate power in the centre.
A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.