The government has mapped as much as five lakh hectares of land — more than four times the size of Hong Kong — spread across 3,390 industrial belts and special economic zones (SEZs) in the country, as it prepares a national land bank portal to woo investors, a senior government official told FE. While the Modi government’s bid to tweak land acquisition rules through an Ordinance in 2014 were mired in political slugfest, the move to set up a land bank will complement its latest efforts to shed rigidities in labour laws to boost domestic manufacturing and lure foreign investors amid growing anti-China sentiments globally.
The portal is being designed in such a manner that investors will be able to locate the land and have access to a plethora of details. The detials relate to logistics, land, rail & air connectivity, and even raw material availability which can make them take informed decisions, said the official.
Inordinate delays in land acquisition have been one of the biggest obstacles in India’s bid to emerge as a major industrial nation, with several foreign companies, including Posco and Saudi Aramco, facing the brunt of a myriad of rules and regulations. Land acquisition has also resulted in large-scale protests against an SEZ in Nandigram, a Tata Motors plant in Singur (both are in West Bengal) and Vedanta’s bauxite mining proposal in Odisha’s Niyamgiri.
Currently, 21 states have GIS-enabled land banks, which are being integrated under the national portal. The department for the promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT), which is spearheading the first-of-its-kind initiative, is ready with the first phase of the launch. As and when more states are on board, likely by December, more land and details thereof, will be made available. A mobile app of the land bank will also be launched, which will come in handy for the investors, said the official.
Since land ownerships in vast swathes of India are fragmented and disorganised, direct acquisition remains a critical challenge, more so for private companies. The land bank becomes a key initiative of the government, as it intends to undertake structural reforms in factors of production to enable greater manufacturing and reverse a Covid-induced slide in growth.
The bid to shore up domestic manufacturing by successive governments, however, hasn’t yielded much success despite economic liberalisation and the share of manufacturing in the country’s GDP has remained stagnant at about 15-17% for at least three decades now — something that the government wants to change now.
In recent months, the DPIIT has been seeking to expedite manufacturing in “champion sectors” — including pharma, textiles, auto components, aerospace and defence — under the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme. Already, the department is working on a “genuine” single window clearance system for investors and drastically pruning the need for a maze of licences for investors to set up units. Already, a status check ordered by a committee of secretaries (CoS) revealed that the 35 central ministries/departments among them are presiding over a regime of as many as 767 pre-establishment/pre-operation licences.
The department is also bolstering “an Investment Clearance Cell” that will put in place a one-stop digital platform for investors to obtain all requisite central and state clearances/approvals in a time-bound and hassle-free manner. It has already undertaken stakeholder consultations with investors, including Foxconn, Samsung, Wistron and Yazaki, and their concerns have been shared with the ministries concerned