Planning for Urban Vacant Land under Indian Railways


Indian Railways have historically owned large swaths of land for building rail links and associated facilities. Colonial history is largely responsible for creating large land pool before independence. So much so that brand new railway towns were built after compulsorily acquiring and occupying lands from the Indians. Today some of that land has become part of the fast-expanding Indian cities. This thesis analyses the railway lands falling within the urban settlements with a case study of Lucknow municipal area. It sets out to achieve four objectives, namely: to analyze the issues of vacant land in urban areas; to study the evolution of land under Indian Railways; to identify the location, extent and the nature of vacant land owned by Indian Railways within urban limits; and to assess how vacant railway land could be used for meeting current urban land challenges in the selected case study area.

Since, each time any new development opts for an undeveloped greenfield instead of a potentially vacant site, the economic life is pulled out of the city while the existing reserves of undisturbed land diminish. Simultaneously, lack of housing options result into unauthorized developments and slum growth on the unused parcels of land. Therefore, to address the situation, this thesis revolves around the basic need of having a conceptualized framework that looks for the available land as a resource such that organized urban development can take place. After looking into the issues pertaining to such parcels of land under the jurisdiction of various land-owning agencies, the research into planning and development of vacant land under the ownership of Indian Railways is carried upon.

The thesis starts from exploring the historical evolution of Indian Railways. The aim is to see how land acquisition has always been at the heart of Railway expansion. This establishes a relationship between the nature of vacancy of land to the courses through which it was acquired. The study goes deep into the processes that operate in the management of land within the Indian Railways. The institutional provisions at the central, zonal and divisional level are comprehensively examined. The ideals set forth by the newly constituted autonomous body- the Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA)- are studied in contrast to the existing land development agencies in the urban areas. These findings are later translated in the context of a case study area.

The land-holding of Indian Railways in the country can be visualized with the following spread:

Land under Indian Railways

Need of the Study

There is a growing need of housing for the ever-increasing population (Buch, 1982). It is apparent that there is an exponential rise in houseless population every year. Also, these increasing houseless households are leading to increasing encroachments in the cities (Buch, 1982). The poor population which cannot afford proper housing is forced to live in unauthorized settlements, slums or squatter on the vacant land. Vacant land that lies unnoticed within the cities can prove to be very beneficial for provision of housing.

Adding to this, there exists a continuous requirement of land for public spaces and institutional arrangements (Pagano & Bowman, 2000). In the growing urban centers, there is a huge quantity of vacant land which lying in big chunks scattered all around. It can be potentially used for such purposed that are important for general public use.

There is a continuous market uprising for commercialization in order to maximize profits (Madhab, 1969). The real estate developers and associated private players tend to violate all the rules of free market because of limited urban land. Planning for vacant land seems to be promising towards bringing down the development costs that are currently prevalent in the Indian cities.

With growing urbanization, there is an outburst of population in cities and towns. The spill of population, and their need of spaces is continuously forcing the city size to grow. The suburban areas are experiencing a change of land-utilization over time. If the existing land that lies vacant within the Urban areas is planned in an organized manner, it may help in limiting this urban sprawl and further protecting the agricultural hinterland (Alexander, Land Banks and Land Banking, June, 2011). This idea will not only be optimal for the markets, but also sustainable in nature. It will also help in saving the investments on transportation.

Furthermore, planning for vacant land is the need of the time in response to Master Plan inflexibility in planning for vacant spaces (Buch, 1982). Master Plans define a particular use of a land and apply the generic development norms. With regard to the ownerships, sometimes the land goes vacant. While addressing the housing need, or the need for any public space, that particular land is not taken into account. With continuous revisions of the Master Plan, the vacancy of the land still prevails. If the vacant land is treated uniquely, it will further lead to optimal utilization of land within the city and the development would be in harmony with the Master Plan (which is the ultimate goal).

land development

Research Preliminaries

This section concerns with the groundworks that were performed in hypothesizing the subject of Land under Indian Railways and looking into the context of it to see if it could be worked out as a typical research topic. Various kinds of literature were looked upon for getting into the technicalities of the aspect. Before getting into the synthesis of the same, it is important to look into the associated preliminaries. Hence, this section entails with the scope of the study, key research question, formulated objectives, adopted research methodology, limitations of the study and major research gaps.

Scope of the Study

The study of Urban Vacant land development under Indian Railways highlights the significance of planning for the vacant land within urban limits. It also tries to establish a relationship between existing vacant land and the corresponding requirement of the city in housing, public spaces, institutional use etc. The study tries to identify various physical constraints and the methods to overcome those constraints to put the vacant land to its best use. The study also tries to determine unique mechanisms so that the planning for the vacant land can be done in a systematic and organized manner for years to come. Talking about the legal constraints, the study takes into account the vacant land as it is identified by the Indian Railways. It doesn’t concern with the encroached land, or land under litigation.

The scope coincides with the site limits of Railway Land Development Authority.

Research Question

The primary question that keeps on persisting throughout the literature review, and further study concerning the subject is that:

“How planning for the vacant land under Indian Railways can cater to the contemporary urban land needs in the most effective way?”


The thesis revolves around the following four objectives:

  1. To analyze the issues of vacant land in urban areas under the jurisdiction of various land-owning agencies.
  2. To study the evolution of vacant land under Indian Railways
  3. To identify the location, extent and the nature of vacant land owned by Indian Railways within urban limits over a period of time.
  4. To assess how vacant railway land could be used for meeting current urban land challenges in a selected case study area.

Research Methodology

The research is thought to take place through a series of steps. Broadly these steps can be divided into two categories: Literature study and Proposal Stage. The dissertation part deals with the literature study, while the proposal stage is dealt by the Thesis.

The literature study revolves around identifying the nature and extent of vacant land owned by Indian Railways. It tries to establish a relationship between the need of land and possible uses that the concerned land can have. Through a set of potential urban areas, a definitive case study is supposed to be chosen by the end of literature study.

The proposal stage would finally deal with a case study area. Issue identification stage would help to identify the areas of concern in dealing with the particular vacant land. For further giving the ideas of development over that land, this particular stage would also highlight of taking up different approaches to reach a final conclusion.

The concerned steps can be looked upon through a linear flow of work in the following manner:

1 Analyzing the context of vacant land in Indian cities-  the causes of vacancy and the probable consequences
2 Defining vacant land for the context of study, i.e. the Railway owned land that is lying vacant in the Urban limits
3 Exploring the evolution of concerned vacant land with respect to Land Acquisition process and its changing paradigm over time
4 Observing the pattern of existence of vacancy, under-utilization and unauthorized encroachments
5 Identifying issues in dealing with that land; and devising methods to tackle those issues
6 Taking into account the development scenarios of various Urban areas to narrow down the Case Study area
7 Analyzing the inventory of developable land in the city.  Marking the land-use demarcation and current use of the land parcels
8 Identifying approaches in defining the parameters in order to optimally use that land. Zooming in a specific region and studying the characteristics of land parcels
9 Comparing and contrasting through different potential uses of that land with alternate scenario building
10 Defining principles of land development- cost, time and techniques. Proposing a process of land development

The inferences of the study indicate the followed methodology.

Limitations of the Research

The general understanding to a land being vacant can be attributed to the overshooting phenomenon of housing stress  (Keuschnigg & Nielsen , 1996). However, for the land already acquired and withheld, many other factors overpower the general supposition of Housing stress. Though housing stress does have an effect on such land, but then it results into encroachments and unauthorized settlements. Thus, the research focuses on the unique characteristics of such preserved land while trying to explore the constraints and the methods in dealing with the vacancy. For the time being, it leaves behind the conventional ideals of Housing stress- hence leaving behind the encroached land that was meant to be vacant. Furthermore, land under litigation and land lying outside the Urban limits is not considered for the study. Also, talking specifically about the land lying in urban limits, it is imperative to say that the land lying on the urban fringes (not rural) is also not taken into consideration. The idea of development concerns the land that lies in large chunks and can be collectively put to any specific use. Since the land in question is Public- i.e., owned by Indian Railways, various market factors cease to exist for the study purposes.

Research Gaps

Primarily, there isn’t any literature available in the Indian context which directly links the use of land under Indian Railways for development purpose. Also, various literature articles try to glorify the urbanization process and resort to vacant land as a by-product of the same. The study tries to highlight the significance of planning exclusively for the vacant land. It tries to bridge a gap between the resultant vacancy and the possible requirements of the city that need to be met. Adding on, pertaining to the topic, the idea keeps missing that-Is there a pattern of existence of vacant land within urban limits?

Further, it is important to know the characteristics associated with the vacant urban land relating to surrounding uses, transport links and proximity to the city center. It will help to establish a relationship between existing vacant land and the corresponding requirement of the city in housing, public spaces, institutional use etc. This will help to put the land under “Indian Railways” to “public good”

We also see that various literature works highlight constraints relating to the use of vacant urban land. These constraints revolve around the boundaries of accessibility, illegal use, litigation, ownership anomalies etc. Most of the other works start from the point that vacant land is put to use, and further articulate the management for that land. It is important to know the missing link- i.e., how to deal with those constraints in order to plan for the vacant urban land? Furthermore, the literature articles go with the scope of just one primary mechanism to deal with the urban land. It is important to know if more than one mechanism can be simultaneously studied and the best suited mechanism be taken forward.

Indian Railways

The thesis titled “Planning for Urban Vacant Land under Indian Railways; A case study for municipal area of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh” has been undertaken by me in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the award of the degree of Bachelor of Planning at School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. The research work undertaken is original and authentic. PlanningTank is not to be held responsible for any discrepancies.

Aakriti | December, 2020