In Last September 2016 the First Bench of Madras High Court passed an order imposing a blanket ban on registration of unapproved plots. Lakhs of those who had bought unapproved plots were severely affected by the ban. Based on the plea from the affected public the First Bench of Madras High Court headed by Chief Justice Huluvadi Ramesh agreed to relax the ban on registration of plots already registered as housing plots. By virtue of the interim lifting of ban, thousands of re-registrations took place rapidly.
But Chief Justice Indira Banerjee who took over the First Bench after the ban gave a shock by reimpossing the ban on second sale of unapproved plots. The Government of Tamil Nadu, not expecting the ban once again, urgently brought out rules for registering unapproved layouts and individual plots on 4th May 2017 and submitted the regularization scheme to the court. Following the submission, the First Bench accepted the regularization scheme by modifying the interim order on 12th May 2017, based on the town and country planning norms and the new rules of regularization, recommending the Government to implement the Registration Act Section 22 A read with the new norms prescribed.
However, there prevails great confusion among the sub-registrars in relation to the interim order, particularly with Section 22A that whether the ban continues on the re-registration of unapproved plots or not. While some of them agree that second registration of housing plots is ok, others feel that it could not be registered. Therefore, they outright decline to register any plots for that matter. The utmost plight of the registrants is that the sub-registrars decline even to register the documents pertaining to mortgage, deposit of title deeds, leasing, gift or release to family members like son, daughter, wife, grandchildren in relation to these plots.
The High Court in its order has stated that the plight of public in the matter of education or marriage of their children is a factor for relaxing the norms for registration. But it is a pity that the registration department did not reflect the compassion of the High Court but are holding tight in their refusal to allow the re-registration of housing plots. Further, the registering authorities have not provided any helpful solution in solving this confusion so far in this regard. Now, let us try to approach the problem in its entirety, keeping aside the government’s regularization scheme and the issue of registration.
First, take up the issue of approval. If a layout is divided into more than eight plots, or if a road is laid in between them, the layout plan should be submitted for approval. But the Sub-registrars decline to register even if a marginal farmer from a remote village brings in a single plot for registration on the ground that it is unapproved. Secondly, is it that easy for an illiterate and poor farmer to approach the portals or DTCP or CMDA? Were these regulations with stringent norms and so many forms, formulated after considering the fundamental rights of people from lower economic and social strata? To apply for a DTCP approval the minimum land area should be 600 or 1200 square feet in size. If that be the requirement, shouldn’t a poor man build a hut of 150 square feet in about 200-300 square foot area over his head?
Moreover, except a few districts, almost half of the land mass in Tamil Nadu is not suitable for agriculture. There are vast areas of sandy lands in coastal districts and rocky terrain in the northern districts remaining fallow. There are vast wastelands of red soil called “Therrikadu” in Tuticorin district. In Arakonam and Thirutani areas it is mostly land surrounding the rocks in all directions. Why should the government agencies stop the poor and marginalized to build houses within their abilities in such fallow lands and continue their life? Why should it impose rules and regulations and destroy their housing dreams?
The major drawback to this regularization scheme is that there is no outer time limit. That means there is no provision of exemption, prescribed as minimum duration of years after a layout is created. For example, with Income Tax (and with other Acts too), there is no provision to levy tax in an assessment which is more than six years old. Similarly, in Stamp Act one cannot be penalized after five years, if a land is found to be registered with a low price and eventually with lesser stamp duty. But, in case of unapproved plots, there is no exemption even after a lapse of so many years. There are thousands of layouts created about 30-40 years ago, which now have transformed into a much developed residential area, with urbane contour, markets, temples and multiplexes. They are now famous Nagars with so many streets and avenues. But if the question is whether to have those plots to be approved, the answer from the Government is yes. But is it really possible? If that be the case, will they demand regularization even for layouts created during the British Regime?
Another drawback with regularization is the amount of fees to be paid to get approval. First is the process fee, next is regularization fee, followed by development charges fee derived from the total square foot area of the plot. Above all, there is OSR charges towards penalty for not providing open space. And that is 10% additional fee against Guideline Value and another 3% on Guideline value separately as land conversion charges on the Guideline value. Considering all, the total fee will amount to INR 25000 per ground and it will reach above many lakhs of rupees according to the type and value of the place. If you had bought a ground for INR 10000, about thirty years ago, you may have to pay ten or twenty times of it towards approval fee. Therefore it is important that the amount paid to get approval of the plot should not exceed the total amount paid for buying it or there should be a ceiling amount determined for each area or place. It if is not happening, most of the public will not come forward to get their plots approved. What action will the government agencies take against the defaulters? If any punitive action is taken against them, by disrupting electricity or water supply, the government should be ready to face disastrous consequences due to rumblings among the public.
Therefore, the Government should empathetically consider the following measures towards regularizing the unapproved plots.
1. As per the concession given under Section 22A, the housing plots should be allowed to be re-registered. Regularization should not be linked to registration. When an un-approved plot owner approaches the agency to get approval for the layout map or building plan for development, fee or charge can be levied. Denial of electricity, water supply and sewage connections can be considered if the owners do not pay the fee. Because with regard to the registration of unapproved housing plots the Government should also share half of the blame for allowing the public to continue violating the norms for long long years and abruptly waking up to the reality on the court’s slap and trying to punish them suddenly, which is unfair. Further the agencies should be considerate that it is the lower and middle class population that has violated the norms who are not economically strong enough to bear such exorbitant expenses.
2. The reason for the boom in the sale of unapproved plots is payment by installments. Most of the buyers who paid monthly installments of INR 500, 1000, 2000 were mainly Government and other private employees who were able to allot a portion of their salary with much difficulty towards buying the plots. Expecting them to pay the approval fee in one lot will affect them economically, leading to further unbearable financial burden. Those who are economically poor should be allowed to pay the fee, one fee at a time or in installments, the same way they bought their plots.
3. Agriculture lands should be strictly protected. But plots inaccessible and remotely located lands that are not arable, having barren soils or rocky in nature should be allowed for unrestricted public housing with exemption instead of blindly applying the regulations.
4. The regulations should not be made applicable for areas laid out many years ago that have now transformed into cities, metros and major residential areas. Therefore an outer time limit of ten years should be fixed to keep the regulations non-applicable for such old and developed plots.
5. There should be a fair ceiling limit towards the fee for unapproved plot approval.
6. Registration should be allowed if the unapproved plot is mortgaged, gifted, partitioned among family members or leased.
7. The Government agencies should explicitly publish the survey numbers of the lands that should not be converted into housing plots.
8. Those severely marginalized and economically backward who have toiled lifelong to get a piece of land or who intend to buy it for building a tiny dwelling unit should be exempt from the regulations. A single window system should be in place where the terrain is sandy, rocky and un-suitable for agriculture or any other related activities and the sanction process should be expedient that the application for housing should be cleared within a week or month.
9. Finally, CMDA is meant for those affluent who fly by air and DTCP is meant for middle and upper middle class population who travel by train. If that is be so what is the stock of the poor and marginalized? Should they walk bare foot? Don’t they have the right to dream a permanent cover over their head in the form of a shed, hut to live in with a minimum dignity and safety? Is it possible for them to deal with the procedures of DTCP or follow their cumbersome procedure and able to build a house of their own?
Therefore for the economically poor and downtrodden and the people from lower social strata should be allowed to build their own house with bare minimum norms. The plot should not be a cultivable or arable land or should not be in a flood prone area, or by a river, canal or in any water body, lake or pond. Approval can be given with a minimum requirement of the above basic conditions including health and hygiene. Therefore besides DTCP and CMDA, Government approval agencies at the Panchayat cluster or panchayat union level should be established by the Government.
Land and houses are not the exclusive prerogatives of the affluent and rich only, but they are also a life long dream for the poor and underprivileged. The Government of Tamil Nadu should immediately take action towards making their dreams come true and not destroy their ambition.
(This article originally written in Tamil by Arumuga Nainar, Advocate Madras High Court for Nanayam Vikatan is reproduced as above in English by Amalan Stanley)
A.Arumuga Nainar, M.A., B.L., Former Addl. Inspector General, Stamps and Registration, Advocate Madras High Court