About four years ago, I wrote this blog article on inefficient land use by elite institutes of India. I had argued that it should be possible to support 50 students per acre of land in a fully residential campus with all the research facilities as well as all the municipal facilities like school, shopping center, hospital, and so on, and with adequate parks and other open spaces. Of course, this is assuming that the entire land is usable and there are no ravines, forests, streams, and other features which make the land unusable. As an extension of the argument, it would be possible to have even higher density of students, if a new campus is planned well, and some support can be there from the city around the campus.
The recent report in media indicate that a panel that was tasked to come up with minimum requirement of land for new central institutions like IITs and IIMs has given a report with similar numbers. The media reports mention that the minimum land for establishing an IIT should be 260 acres instead of 500 acres till now.
Ideally, the land requirement should depend on the area in which the Institute is being set up. If we are setting it closer to a city, then one gets a higher FAR, one gets permission to build higher, and so on, and hence the land requirement shall be lower. On the other hand, if the new institute is being set up away from a city, usually one would not get permission to build higher, the restrictions on FAR would be more stringent, and hence the land requirement would be greater. Also, from a competitive point of view, you need to give something to an institute in a less preferred location with which it can attract potential faculty, staff and students. And that something could be land. The institute could offer more spacious environments. I would, any day, prefer a more sprawling campus of IIT Kanpur than a concrete jungle that IIT Bombay is, even though the city of Mumbai has a lot to offer.
The state governments should be able to give choices to the Ministry on location vis-a-vis land. They could afford 200 acres near a big city, near an airport, and all that, or it could be 300 acres if one goes 20-30 KM out, or it could be 400 acres if one goes to a small city, or 500 acres if one goes to a town. In fact, there could be other options as well, may be 100 acres closer to the city and 200 acres, 5KM away. So residences are closer to the city solving the problem of social infrastructure for families and spousal jobs. Overall, what is important is that we show some flexibility on the issue of land. The exact number of acres should not be cast in stone.
Now, let us look at the land requirements for other institutes. For NITs, it is proposed to reduce the land requirement to 150 acres. I am not sure what the logic is. Most part of the land in NIT or an IIT is used for residential requirements and teaching requirements. The research requirement would indeed use up some land, but given that both NITs and IITs are supposed to do research, the difference can not be so substantial. Is the different land requirement (which by the way was there in the past also, 300 acres versus 500 acres, so it is not a new issue that I am stating) due to expectation that NITs would have a smaller student population (but why?), or is it due to more lavish spaces for IITians (bigger houses, bigger hostel rooms, bigger offices?) I hope the entire report will be made public soon for us to understand the reasons better.
The most interesting recommendation is regarding the IIMs. Unlike other type of institutions, IIMs have different land requirement depending on whether it is an urban campus or a non-urban campus, and the difference is huge. 5-10 acres (ONLY?) for an urban campus versus 60 acres for a non-urban campus. I guess, they are looking at a non-residential campus for IIMs, if they are established in a city. But it is interesting that only for IIMs they have a range (5-10) and for everything else, they have a fixed number, and this does look extremely tiny compared to the current norms of 200 acres. My guess is that by reducing the requirement from 200 acres to 10 acres, the new IIMs would have a very different character and would find it difficult to compete.
But, overall, it is high time the educational institutes start making more efficient use of land.