Land Use Act 2019: An Overview

Uttam Maharjan

 

The Land Use Act, 2019 has come into force in Nepal. As per the act, land has been classified into 10 categories: agricultural; residential; commercial; industrial; mining and mineral; forest; river, stream, pond and wetland; public use; cultural and archaeological; and others. The land classification is based on the composition and use of the land. The classification has not clearly pinpointed guthi land, which is religious land in the name of temples or shrines, from the revenue of which the religious ceremonies or festivals associated with the temples or shrines are celebrated and the repairs and maintenance of the temples or shrines are carried out.
Nepal has about 14.7 hectares of land, out of which agricultural land occupies 28.8 per cent (arable land 15.1 per cent, permanent crops 1.2 per cent and pastures and rangelands 12.5 per cent), forests 25.4 per cent and others 45.8 per cent . But not all agricultural land is under cultivation; only about 20 per cent is used for agricultural purposes.
The act has been introduced based on the condition of land, population growth, requirements of land for various purposes like food and habitation and the need for economic development and infrastructure building, among others. The main aim of the act is to ensure that land is properly used and managed and that land set aside for one purpose is not used for other.
Misuse of and encroachment on land are rampant in the country. Even agricultural land is plotted out to make room for residential use. The so-called land mafia has been active for years in this nefarious design. On the other hand, there are instances galore in which the ownership of guthi land, government land and other land is transferred in the name of individuals by foul means in cahoots with the employees of land revenue offices and influential persons. Although such incidents appear in the newspapers more often than not and the government also forms commissions to investigate such land scams, action is hardly taken again the perpetrators due to involvement of high-ranking officials or political leaders. The Lalita Niwas (Baluwatar) land-grab scam, for instance, has been under investigation for months and the report of the investigation commission is yet to be out. It seems such investigation reports will fade away over time and the cases will sink into oblivion.
The act has come out at a time when misuse and misappropriation of land are widespread in the country. Implementation of the act should be a deterrent to such illegal acts, failing which its relevance will no longer hold water.
The act has assigned the responsibility for implementing the act to not only the federal government but also to the provincial and local governments. As per the act, three tiers of the government should constitute councils to bring provisions of the act into implementation. The federal government should draft maps of all the local levels and ensure that all the local governments are abiding by provisions of the act. The local governments, on their part, should ensure that the people are adhering to provisions of the act. For this, they will have to form implementation committees under the leadership of the heads of the local governments. So the local levels have a major role to play in ensuring implementation of the act.
The provincial and local governments are also required to formulate their own land use laws based on the act. The federal government can review the land use plan every seven years, whereas the provincial governments can do so every five years. The local governments can, however, review the land use plan as and when required. Such a review can be made on the basis of changing patterns of demography, urbanisation, specific needs for land use for economic and infrastructure development and so on. The land use plans should clearly show the location of industrial corridors, special economic zones, national projects, inter-provincial projects, heritage sites, religious and cultural sites, academic institutions, security areas, disaster-prone zones, biodiversity-protection zones, roads, health institutions, irrigation canals and other areas as designated by the government.
The act has provided for a land bank, which is itself a new concept in the country. Under the concept, land belonging to various people will be pooled together and leased out to those who are willing to invest in agriculture. The investors can even embark upon collective farming, which will give a shot-in-the-arm to agricultural production and productivity. Although around 65 per cent of the people are engaged in agriculture and allied activities, the status of agricultural production is not copacetic as evidenced by the need for importing rice and other agricultural produce from foreign countries. So it is high time an agricultural revolution was kicked off to boost the agrarian sector. Advances in this sector will also help industrial and other sectors to flourish.
The act has also provided for fines for failing to use land for the purposes it is meant for. If agricultural land is left barren for up to three years without informing the concerned local government with valid reasons, an amount of up to Rs. 100,000 may be levied as a fine. Failing to follow land use survey drawings and plans may invite a fine of up to Rs. 200,000. In a similar vein, failure to use land for designated purposes may entail a fine of up to Rs. 300,000. In the rural areas, much land has remained fallow as there is a paucity of manpower. The rural youth tend to migrate to the city areas or abroad in search of jobs, leaving the children and elderly back in the rural areas. In such a situation, the local governments should be notified about the compulsion to leave the land barren so as to avoid paying a fine. On the other hand, the government should take concrete measures to retain the youth in the rural areas by initiating various development activities in the rural areas.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at [email protected]) 

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