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When Good Policy Meets Bad Politics: Property Rights, Land Amalgamation, and Urbanization in India

Indian cities are facing challenges due to their low-rise structures and sprawling slums that are projected to increase with the growth of urban populations in the future. To cope with this trend and take advantage of agglomeration externalities, India needs to adopt a more upward, pyramid-like approach with increased density. Although strengthening property rights has been suggested as a solution, India's fragmented land ownership system makes this option difficult. Previously, the Indian government used eminent domain to acquire and amalgamate land for industrial or infrastructural use, but this led to significant political opposition in the 2000s. As a result, the 2013 Land Acquisition Act was passed, which narrowed the circumstances under which land could be acquired, increased compensation payments, and extended those payments to non-owners who relied on the land for their livelihoods. While this approach has ensured political acquiescence among rural and slum dwellers, it has created a problem for private businesses that require land for property or industrial development, causing a significant time and cost burden. This political reality, while necessary for a democratic India, may not be conducive to good economics and may lead to dysfunctional urbanization.
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