Regret investing our life’s savings in land pooling, say homebuyers

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Close to a decade ago, Anees Ahmed, 33, invested ₹6.75 lakh in a group housing society that purchased land in a village which was identified to be a part of the Land Pooling Policy (LPP) of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

While Mr. Ahmed took a loan to pay for his investment, the development works under the LPP — in which the DDA plays the role of a facilitator — never took off.

“Had I invested in a trusted bank scheme, my money would have doubled by now. I paid off my loan with great difficulty and I have received no return on my investment. Even today, the DDA’s scheme is yet to be implemented,” said Mr. Ahmed, who works in a private firm.

Notified on two occasions, in 2013 and 2018, the land pooling policy is aimed at providing 17 lakh dwelling units — including five lakh units for economically weaker sections — for a population of roughly 80 lakh people. Despite multiple changes to the policy over the years, the policy is yet to be implemented.

Like Mr. Ahmed, many who invested their hard-earned money in the scheme through group housing societies continue to pay their dues while seeing no returns. Many of those who invested when the policy first rolled out in 2013, in the hope of owning a home one day, told The Hindu that the agency’s failure to execute the scheme has taken a toll on them.

Currently, 104 villages — which have been divided into six zones and further divided into 129 sectors — have been identified for land pooling.

According to the current policy, 60% of the land can be utilised by the owners or developer entity for developing residential and commercial facilities. The remaining 40% of the land has to be surrendered to service providing agencies, such as the DDA, for infrastructural development works such as laying road networks, sewerage systems and developing parks.

Ram Krishna, 47, a government official, had invested ₹20 lakh in the LPP, with his savings and a bank loan.

“When I invested in 2013, like many others, I hoped to have a home by 2015 or 2016. Instead, many like me are paying off the interest on their loans without any returns. It is stressful to be kept waiting all this time while the scheme continues to remain at a dead-end,” Mr. Krishna said.

Contiguity factor

The DDA has struggled to execute the LPP on the ground due to an eligibility condition that requires 70% of the pooled land to be contiguous, while also requiring the minimum participation rate to be 70%. Though the urban body has achieved the minimum participation rate in various sectors, the minimum contiguous land condition is yet to be fulfilled in any sector.

To overcome this deadlock, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs proposed a few amendments in March this year. These include making land-pooling mandatory and giving powers to the Centre to override the eligibility condition that necessitates the 70% participation rate.

However, many early investors believe that the scheme is not going to be implemented anytime soon.

Former DDA commissioner (planning), A.K. Jain, agreed to concerns raised by the respondents. He said neither the proposed amendments nor DDA’s recent move of issuing conditional notices to form consortiums of landowners, to help meet the eligibility criteria, will help revive the scheme.

“The DDA’s role has to be that of planning and making infrastructure and not as a facilitator. The agency has to be directly involved in the execution of the policy. The whole policy has been misguided by the authorities. It has to be reworked from scratch. In so many cases, the lifetime savings of people, who invested in the scheme, have drowned,” said Mr. Jain.

He added that the authorities should come clean and accept that the policy is a failure.

However, a senior DDA official said that the urban body has always cautioned homebuyers and investors against fraudulent practices by certain developers while adding that no permission has been given to any developer to start development works under the LPP.

“The policy has always been clear. How can the homebuyers form a housing society without meeting the eligibility criteria under the scheme? They blame the DDA for the sake of pinning the failure on someone. The investment was based on their choice and interest,” the senior DDA official said.

Since the DDA opened its window for land pooling in February 2019, a total area of 7,275.45 hectares from a total of 6,922 applications has been registered.

In late May, the urban body reopened the window for applications trying to revive the interest in the LPP among the potential investors.

However, only 19 applications and only 12.6 additional hectares were registered in the scheme during the last extended window for receiving applications — from January 24 to February 28 this year.