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Curbs on Villa Construction  in Farm Areas Effective?
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Curbs on Villa Construction in Farm Areas Effective?

The government and the judiciary have issued orders in the past few months to curb the trend of excessive construction of villas in coastal, agricultural and wood lands in the country’s northern provinces.
According to a study, between March and September construction activity on such lands declined by 20-25 percent and land brokers to some extent have “stepped off the northern lands.” But drought, in addition to the government’s decision to restrict agricultural activities to control water consumption pose a new threat to green fields in the north.
The decision could nullify government efforts to check villa construction and tempt farmers to sell their lands to the land mafia. Many acres of agricultural land have been sold to builders at cheap rates, bringing in considerable profit for brokers and landlords. But the current status of the agriculture sector, besides the water shortage, could once again trigger a new wave of “land conversion” in the northern areas.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 hectares of such lands are destroyed annually as construction activity continues with impunity. Iran’s agricultural lands are estimated at around 18 million hectares.

 Gov’t Directive
First Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri in his recent directive to three ministries ordered them to put an end to the excessive conversion of agricultural land for construction of villas in the north.
The text of Jahangiri’s directive is as follows:
- Considering the importance of protecting natural resources (national and natural lands), and taking into account the importance of realizing government objectives, it is necessary for all administrative bodies to re-examine the sanctioned national and government land deals, investigate incomplete projects or those yet to be started and present their reports and legal solutions to reclaim the identified lands.
- According to reports, illegal construction on agricultural lands is nationwide, with special concentration in the north. It is necessary to find a legal solution to address the issue in cooperation with provincial governors.
- Many acres of land have been leased to “legal and natural persons” to explore mineral resources. According to rules, tenders will have to be called after the expiration date of the lease. In case no bid is submitted, the land will be omitted from the map of mineral resources and will be declared “as free and necessary arrangements should be made for the public to undertake the exploration of such lands.”

 Warning
Jahangiri’s order was issued after the High Council of Urban Development and Architecture warned the governors of two northern provinces against inaction on the alarming trend of villa construction in green areas,according to Doya-e-Eghtesad.
Negligence towards illegal activities by brokers and lack of clearly demarcated territories of municipalities are among the reasons for excessive change of land use. The activity has expanded vastly, so much so that the constructions are changing the landscape of the northern provinces.
These lands are partly used by government and “pseudo governmental organizations,” and the rest is grabbed by individuals, it is alleged.

 Ineffective?
However, it is said that the new policy to address the nationwide drought, may in effect, hinder government measures to curb constructions.
Builders and land brokers have so far been the major driving force behind excessive constructions, but it is unlikely that farmers will take the first step towards halting the process “due to unprofitability of the agricultural sector.”
Head of the Land Organization of Iran Ghobad Afshar stressed that “conversion of land use is widespread in some provinces, but Mazandaran ranks first or second in this regard.”
Fars news agency recently reported that “the lack of a plan of action and certain rules and regulations in the tourism sector has paved the way for excessive construction of villas in the north; and taxes on villas are not on a par with taxes on normal constructions.”
Afshar further said the northern coasts “have almost become privatized; villas are edging closer to the shore, and the interior ministry, tourism bodies, Ports and Maritime Organization and the High Council of Urban Development and Architecture do not maintain proper supervision.”
According to Afshar, the General Inspection Office and the parliament are in agreement on curbing excessive constructions, and laws to this effect have been approved. Additionally, a land protection unit has been established, which, in the past six months, has managed to bring down the change of land use by 20-25%.
On the allocation of vast agricultural tracts for other uses due to lack of remunerative prices on farm production, Afshar said the government “is trying to make the agriculture sector profitable. Prices of wheat and other farm produce have increased and a new law is aimed to offer incentive packages to boost agricultural production.”

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