Nepal | February 23, 2020

Land Use Act: Can local governments make use of it?

Ayush Jung Thapa

The underlying concern now is how well the local levels will tread through this virgin territory for the realisation of the Act. Overwhelmed by day-to-day operations, they suffer from inadequate financial, human and infrastructural resources

After several months under consideration and a few debates in the Parliament, the nation’s first ever Land Use Act has come into effect. The term ‘land use’ at first glance may seem like a stand-alone denotation, dealing with use of land. Land use, however, encompasses a much wider interpretation and application. It is an interdisciplinary field, subsuming social, economic, legal, administrative, political, environmental, technological and physical spheres of planning and governance.

The Land Use Act, 2019 has assigned rights, responsibilities and duties to the federal, provincial and local governments. In theory and as practised globally, being the front line representative of the government, local governments assume micro level roles in the execution of all land use activities, while the federal and provincial governments only assume macro level regulatory roles, with some exceptions.

As such, the Act and provisions under it for the local governments should be seen with special care. It is also worth exploring if the local governments are equipped with what it takes to successfully implement the Act.

Some of the key provisions under the Act for local governments include: formation of municipal land use bodies, acquisition of land use maps from the federal government, development of land use plans, and carrying out zoning process, land use change, land title update, land valuation and taxation.The local land use council and local land use implementation committee are the two bodies mandated by the Act.

The municipal council is bestowed an additional role as the land use council. In order to support the land use council, a land use implementation committee will also be in place.

The two bodies will have to execute all land use planning works, like plan and policy formulation, enforcement, monitoring, penalising planning offences, conservation of significant areas and other general activities.

Acquisition of land use maps from the federal government involves receiving all kinds of land use maps, raw data and reports produced by the ongoing National Land Use Project. Local governments will then have to amend such maps, making it more appropriate to the local context. Using such maps and local data, municipal land use plan, ward level land use plans and, if necessary, separate rural and urban land use plans are also to be developed.

Similarly, the zoning process involves making changes to land zones assigned by the federal government if required, and creating a local zoning ordinance. Land use change is also permissible if a local government deems any land unsuitable for settlement or human activity. Updating land titles as per the land zones, valuation of land, and administration of land taxes also come as local responsibility.

The underlying concern now is how well the local governments will tread through this virgin territory for the realisation of the Act. Overwhelmed by day-to-day operations, formulation of laws, fiscal planning and development activities, local governments suffer from inadequate financial, human and infrastructural resources. A specialised field as such calls for specialist manpower and departments.

The Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration had even published elaborate municipal organograms and staffing requirements last year. However, most local governments are yet to set up a fully manned and functional town planning, infrastructure development and environmental management wing.

Operation so far is being handled by a handful of engineers and surveyors, often preoccupied with building approvals, monitoring and local development projects.

A state of reliance on other governmental actors looms over local governments. The Land Use Act, 2019, and Local Government Operation Act, 2017 are precise in emphasising federal and provincial control over local governments in land use planning activities. Due to this, local governments now await provincial land use laws, and whether they can move ahead without such provincial laws remains largely unclear.

Likewise, activities such as development of land use plans, zoning, land title update, land valuation and taxation require use of land and revenue data traditionally collected, managed and owned by the Land Revenue (malpot) and Survey (napi) offices.

Although the Local Government Operation Act has passed down majority of the malpot and napi functions to the local governments, implying a merger between these two (or at least all of their functions) and local governments, resistance from the former is high. This puts acquisition and use of malpot, napi data by local governments for land use planning at stake.

The Land Use Act is a gateway to amalgamate sectoral interests and better land use practices. Most of the functions provisioned to the local governments are specialised in nature, requiring collaborative partnerships, sound legal base, and linkage between traditional methods and modern technologies, all backed by strong political and bureaucratic will.

How, and to what extent local governments and planners make use of the Act will now determine the course of correction of the historically flawed land use planning system.

Thapa is an urban planner

A version of this article appears in print on November 27, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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