Category Archives: Land Governance

An unlikely common strand of 2020 — land and property rights

piece was originally published in the Hindustan Times, on 24 December, 2020.

The year 2020 drew sharp focus to land and property rights issues in India. The year began with protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which — if implemented — would have relied on citizens having their land records in place to prove citizenship. Many commentators lamented how landless migrant labour would meet these stringent requirements in a country where land records management is in an abysmal shape with limited digitisation.

With the onset of the pandemic, and India going into an unprecedented lockdown, the shocking sight of migrant labourers walking the highways for days exposed the lack of inclusive housing in our cities. They were forced to leave cities not only due to the lack of affordable housing, but also because informal rent agreements enabled abrupt evictions. While many developed countries enforced rent moratoriums and protections against evictions, in India, authorities could not create such a safety net. Informal tenancy in urban and semi-urban India and landlessness in rural India plunged the most vulnerable populations into further despair.

Migrant labourers were forced to leave cities not only due to the lack of affordable housing, but also because informal rent agreements enabled abrupt evictions.

Lockdowns across the world also forced businesses to consider diversification of their supply chains. This turned the attention of policymakers to the ease of doing business to make India an attractive destination for companies looking to invest in new locations. Again, land reforms became a central part of this conversation. While the central government explored the idea of creating land banks, some states focused on structural reforms. Karnataka amended laws to remove restrictions on buying and selling of agricultural land by non-agriculturalists.

Other developments that brought focus to property rights include the SVAMITVA (Survey of villages and mapping with improvised technology in village areas) scheme launched in April 2020. The scheme aims to survey non-agricultural inhabited land in rural India. The stated goals are connecting rural Indians with institutional credit through better property records, and empowering Panchayati Raj institutions through property tax collection.

In October 2020, in response to the migrant crisis, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs announced the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) Scheme. The scheme aims to fill the affordable housing gap in cities by utilising government-funded vacant houses along with construction, operation and maintenance of new affordable housing projects by private players.

In an unrelated development, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement; it ruled that daughters have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family properties, even if the father died before the enactment of the 2005 Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act. Gender activists celebrated the judgment as this ambiguity had presented a big hurdle for women across India in accessing their property rights.

Though these developments seem disparate, it is worth noting that land and property rights dominated people’s lives and public narrative even in an extraordinary year such as 2020. The year highlighted the fault lines in our land governance and exacerbated the effect of existing inefficiencies in our system. As we look to kickstart recovery in 2021, one hopes that policymakers will retain focus on making land records services citizen-friendly, undertaking surveys of previously unsurveyed areas, improving land markets and continuing to invest in affordable housing in our urban centres.

Though these developments seem disparate, it is worth noting that land and property rights dominated people’s lives and public narrative even in an extraordinary year such as 2020.

Presently, there are interesting policy proposals under discussion to achieve these goals. Apart from ARHC and SVAMTIVA that may be scaled up, a Model Tenancy Act aimed at bridging the trust deficit between tenants and landlords is under consideration. The Centre and states are mulling subsidies in stamp duty rates to boost the real estate market and property registration. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are making huge investments in new surveys and technology to improve land governance.

A continued focus on land and property rights is important — these cross-cutting issues not only impact the growth of India’s economy but play an important role in the lives of all Indians. Among other things, 2020 has also been a stark reminder that governments must prioritise securing land and property rights for all its citizens.

 

Aparajita Bharti is founding partner and Bindushree D is policy associate at The Quantum Hub, a public policy research and advocacy firm.

 

Securing property and land rights in India

This article was originally published on India Development Review on 24 July 2020, and can be viewed here.

Land governance and property rights have been historically overlooked in India, and reforming them is critical to securing high growth.

 

Secure property rights are fundamental to the economic and social development of any country. However, in India, we are faced with a curious conundrum where more than 70 percent of a household’s assets are held in land and housing, yet there is insufficient data and research on people’s property rights. On one hand, the government aspires to provide 18-20 million affordable housing units in urban areas, while on the other, more than 10 million housing units are lying vacant, as per the 2011 Census. The judicial pendency of land disputes is also high, with several million cases pending in Indian courts. Approximately 25 percent of all cases decided by the Supreme Court involve land disputes, of which 30 percent concern disputes relating to land acquisition. 

All these factors, combined, result in insecure tenure for a large population, especially the poor and vulnerable, which in turn poses a complex set of challenges for effective governance. It also impacts the efficiency of our judicial system and our ability to attract investments. According to the ‘Ease of Doing Business Rankings’, India ranks 156th on the metric of ‘Ease of registration of property’—in contrast with its overall rank of 63 in the 2020 index. With the current rate of population growth and increasing competition for finite resources such as land, it is important to draw policy attention to these issues.

 

Land governance and property rights have been largely overlooked in India.

 

Despite the severity and complexity of this issue, land governance and property rights have been largely overlooked within policy research and development initiatives in India. The reasons for this are many, ranging from historical to political. Historically, the bulk of the colonial government’s revenues came from taxing agricultural produce. Over time, as this revenue declined, the focus on rural land administration reduced. As our cities grew in an unplanned manner, we did not invest in building strong land administration systems. On a political level, land and housing are very valuable assets, which, when regulated poorly, attract corruption and violence.

In addition, land and housing often have deep emotional relevance for people, and access to these are, in some cases, dictated by old beliefs and traditional customs. For instance, patriarchal norms often hinder women from owning properties, even though studies have shown that when women own properties, families show better indicators of health, nutrition, and education. Similarly, when marginalised groups own land, they have better food security and gain increased respect from the local communities. However, these require shaking up some deep-rooted social norms, which can be very challenging for both nonprofits and donors.

While India has undertaken reforms in many sectors of the economy, land and labour—the core factors of production—have not seen reforms. For decades, we have witnessed the effect of broken land administration in our daily lives. With reportedly as much as 66 percent of all civil cases pertaining to property disputes, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that every Indian family has faced a property dispute. The COVID-19 pandemic has borne testament to some of these issues as well, as we see the scale of the impact it has had on people living in informal settlements, where issues of poor sanitation and housing are fuelled by lack of tenure security. It is quite evident that a bulk of our current social and economic challenges are centred around the lack of secure access to land and housing rights.

 

Reforming the land rights regime is critical for India to secure high growth.

 

The fundamental building block to define and secure land rights for anyone, is the underlying property record. This record should accurately reflect all pertinent information, including ownership, the geo-coordinated location and boundaries of the property, any mortgage claims, tenant claims, and disputes. Improving the accuracy of land records, including maps, should be the topmost priority. It is the basic infrastructure required for secure access to land and housing rights, and would bring in more confidence in land-related transactions, reduce conflict, encourage more investments, and also improve the government’s ability to deliver welfare schemes.

India also needs reforms in other critical land governance areas. We have progressive laws, such as the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which need to be implemented on the ground to ensure that more than 100 million people belonging to Scheduled Tribes are able to secure the patta (or land title) to their land and gain access to all welfare benefits that have not been made available to them till date. Organisations, such as ARCH Vahini in Gujarat, that work towards helping communities secure land pattas have observed significant improvements in agriculture production and incomes. We need more nonprofits working in Adivasi communities to help families apply for pattas, which will have multifold benefits in reducing poverty in these areas.

 

Ooty landscape with houses on the side of a hill-land rights

In India, although more than 70 percent of a household’s assets are held in land and housing, there is insufficient data and research on people’s property rights. | Picture courtesy: Pixabay

Land leasing is the third area where we need policy reforms. Given the small landholdings in India, millions of farmers lease additional land to enhance their farm output. However, these contracts are largely informal, and farmers with informal leases do not get access to any government benefits such as agriculture credit, PM KISAN, crop insurance, fertiliser subsidy, or Minimum Support Price procurement. A few states, including Uttar Pradesh, have recently amended their land leasing laws to allow tenancy to be formalised, thereby securing the rights of tenant farmers. Implementing these changes on the ground will require concerted efforts from civil society and government officials, as it requires changing decades-old practices.

Attention to reform in hitherto poorly focused areas, such as land and labour, will be critical for India to resume a high-growth journey. As we grapple with an economic slowdown due to COVID-19, the recently launched NCAER Land Record Services Index (N-LRSI) offers a step towards changing this. The N-LRSI is the first piece of research that carries out an in-depth analysis of land records in India. The index assesses the current status of digitisation, identifies the existing gaps in each state, and can help under-performing states implement specific remedial actions. 

The report finds that in 28 states and union territories, digitisation stands at 86.3 percent. However, it also reveals considerable accessibility issues, such as changes in administrative units and mismatch of names/spellings, language and translation issues, and other user interface problems. We clearly have a long way to go, and the N-LRSI could become a bellwether of improved land governance in India.

 

Technology can be leveraged to secure property rights.

 

Technology, especially geospatial technology, can also significantly drive change on the ground. Drones are perhaps the most exciting new entrants in this spectrum, as they offer great potential for innovation. Recently, the Odisha state government used drones to map close to two lakh households across the state. The whole exercise was completed in a matter of a few months, which by traditional methods would have taken several years. Moreover, the drone imagery brought in transparency to the whole process and allowed the communities to engage with the maps to identify their own homes and community boundaries. This greatly helped in reducing information asymmetry and building trust. Nonprofits such as PRADAN have also employed geospatial tools to map land and help Adivasi families claim their patta.

While there is no doubt that technology can be a force for good, it is also important to acknowledge its limitations in social impact and transformation.

The Government of India also recognises the importance of using technology, as seen from the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of the Swamitva scheme, which aims to map rural inhabited lands using drones and issue property cards to those living in abadi areas (inhabited rural land) without a record of rights.

While there is no doubt that technology can be a force for good, it is also important to acknowledge its limitations in social impact and transformation. Technology is not a silver bullet, and needs to be complemented by non-tech solutions, if we want sustainable impact. Therefore, the focus needs to be on responsible technology, that is used in close engagement with a range of actors, from businesses, to governments, to civil society. 

 

Donors should pay more attention to the issue of property rights.

 

Land and property rights are often viewed as a very political issue, which may discourage donors from investing in research in this area. Cognisant of this research gap, we, at Omidyar Network India, have invested in supporting the Property Rights Research Consortium (PRRC) to create evidence-based solutions, without political biases. 

We also believe that there is an opportunity for donors working on WASH, agriculture, and gender issues to include secure land tenure as a key component in their programmes. For example, a programme working to improve farmer income enhancement would need to identify and support tenant farmers to make it truly inclusive, and could include a component to identify tenants and help them formalise the tenancy agreement and access government benefits. Similarly, gender programmes can also try to include women’s names in the property documents, since research shows that it reduces instances of domestic violence and increases women’s confidence and agency. WASH programmes in urban slum communities also require access to land for sanitation  infrastructure. Ahmedabad’s Slum Networking Programme, which started in the late 1990s, demonstrated that providing secure tenure to communities can transform the sanitation and health conditions in informal settlements by leveraging government resources as well as community funds.

Recently, Ashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, aptly described land as a horizontal, cross-cutting issue across interventions. Evidence shows that that developing programmes that address the land use challenges of target communities are able to significantly boost the overall impact of the programme on the lives of families for a sustained period. Therefore, it is time that we start taking concrete steps towards securing land and property rights in India. 

 

 

Shreya Deb leads Omidyar Network’s investments in property rights in India where her interests are in supporting scalable models that can help provide more secure land and housing rights to economically vulnerable people, including in urban slums.  Before joining Omidyar Network in 2011, Shreya spent four years at The Boston Consulting Group. Shreya has an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and a BTech in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

 

Refine land acquisition process to unclog courts

Originally published in Financial Express on 1 September, 2020.

Executive discretion and inadequate compensation have led to litigation clogging the courts.

 

The debate over the recent Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Ordinance has brought into focus the contestations over land in rural India. Conflicts over land form a large proportion of civil litigation in India. DAKSH’s Access to Justice 2017 survey showed 29.3% of civil disputes concerned land and property. Apart from disputes between private parties over inheritance, encroachment and eviction, there is widespread litigation over the compulsory acquisition of land by the state.

DAKSH conducted a study of land acquisition litigation in six districts and the High Courts of two states, Maharashtra and Karnataka between 2008 and 2018 to understand the nature and causes of such litigation. These cases relate both to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (‘1894 Act’) before 2013, and the new Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (‘2013 Act’).

In Maharashtra’s Amravati, Beed and Raigad districts, land acquisition cases on average remained pending between 1,516 days and 2,462 days. In Amravati and Beed, execution cases in land acquisition took inordinately long to get disposed. Execution cases here usually are for payment of the compensation amount. These delays in execution indicate serious flaws in the administration of the process, especially the payment of compensation by the state. If the state takes 1,424 days to merely pay money to a person whose land has been acquired, it points to a severe lack of planning in the executive processes.

In Bengaluru Rural, Mysuru and Kalaburagi in Karnataka, land acquisition cases remained pending between 729 days and 4,038 days. In Mysuru and Kalaburagi, the large volume of appeal cases before the district courts indicates a general proclivity to appeal in the expectation of higher compensation or perception of not having been treated fairly. This tendency to appeal persists despite the prospect of the case remaining pending for years, indicating that the perceived benefits of a favourable order from the appellate court far outweigh the litigants’ transaction costs in terms of time, effort and money.

Cases involving a challenge to compensation constituted 52.9% and 51% of the land acquisition litigation before the Bombay and Karnataka High Courts, respectively. Among such cases, reference courts (district courts hearing appeals from the decision of the land acquisition officer) have almost always enhanced compensation owed to landowners. Despite the increase in compensation by the reference courts, people still approached High Courts, seeking a further increase in compensation. The Bombay High Court enhanced compensation in 46.8% of the cases and the Karnataka High Court did so in 41%. It would be fair to conclude that inadequate compensation, coupled with a trend of courts increasing compensation, incentivised landowners to litigate.

The other major reason for litigation at the high court level is procedural irregularities. The most common procedural irregularities alleged were related to the preliminary notification of acquisition, declaration of public purpose and invocation of the urgency provision. These echo one of the major criticisms of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, of unbridled executive discretion. This kind of discretion led to a lot of room for arbitrary actions, various interpretations of statutory provisions and hence created fertile ground for litigation.

The 2013 Land Acquisition Act has reduced executive discretion to determine compensation and has delineated the ambit of ‘urgency’ and ‘public purpose’. However, the new provisions relating to compensation, social impact assessment, rehabilitation and resettlement still leave scope for executive discretion and hence the possibility of protracted litigation.

State governments need to create guidelines and set up protocols that narrow the scope of executive discretion and hence create more equitable outcomes for all parties concerned. It would be useful to have nodal officers at the department-level to avoid and contain litigation.

The 2013 Act has also ousted the jurisdiction of district courts over land acquisition, and references from Collectors’ awards now lie with an authority to be created under the Act. However, several states are yet to establish these authorities seven years after these were mandated. It is imperative that state governments issue guidelines on implementation and establish these authorities. Any changes in land laws will fall short on expectations unless the basic infrastructure for dispute prevention and resolution is in place.

 

 

Leah Verghese is Research manager at DAKSH, Bengaluru.

 

 

 

mountains in Himachal Pradesh

In Himachal, effective forest management could make cities more resilient too

Originally published in Citizen Matters on 29 October, 2018.

Forests become an easy scapegoat for urban infrastructure development. Recently, the National Highways Authority of India blamed meteorological events for triggering landslides in Himachal Pradesh, but such events are not the only cause of environmental degradation.

With the reckless cutting of 23, 785 trees to four-lane the Shimla-Kalka highway and excessive cutting of thousands of other trees to facilitate several hydroelectric projects, it is evident that excessive human activity in Himachal Pradesh is leading to degradation and deprivation of forest quality, which, ironically, would only impede the development that the state is hoping for.

The recent water woes in Shimla in which most areas of the city received water supply only once in eight days, and tourists were requested to avoid visiting the city, is one such example. Several news reports have documented how the drying up of the city’s water sources led to a consistent decrease in water supply quantity, while the city’s population keeps growing.

It is well-established that one of the major factors for these disappearing water sources and reduced rainfall is the loss of surrounding tree cover. The story of Shimla is likely to be repeated across the state, unless some pragmatic measures are taken.

In the face of rapid urbanisation, states need to compensate for the over- extraction of ecosystem services especially forest resources, by their large urban centers. A city does not exist in isolation from its surrounding region, and Participatory Forest Management (PFM) at the regional scale is one of the methods to achieve sustainable urbanisation. It is essential to not only escalate plantation drives and undertake compulsory compensatory afforestation as part of development projects, but also design programmes that are sustainable, people-friendly and self-driven. In doing so, taking care of the needs of the local community stands as a prerequisite to success.

The record so far

Since 1993, there have been several initiatives adopted by the State government of Himachal Pradesh in collaboration with international development agencies such as the World Bank and JICA to execute Joint Forest Management (JFM) programmes aimed at increasing the State’s green cover.

According to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR, 2017), the total forest cover in Himachal Pradesh has increased by 1% since 2015. However, today, after more than two decades, there are only approximately 635 active JFM committees within the State. This number has dropped from 963 active JFMCs in 2014.

According to many forest fringe communities, this increase in the number of inactive JFMCs has primarily been due to the lack of willingness among people, aggravated by erratic financial support from the Forest Department. Rapid urbanisation leading to less dependency on forests and drastic changes in climatic conditions are other factors leading to an increase in the number of non-functional JFMCs. Clearly, this requires a cross-examination of the socio-political conditions and the existing legal framework within the State.

Strengthening Joint Forest Management

An inclusive, rather than a top-down bureaucratic approach might prove worthy in the success of JFM. Involvement of stakeholders in the mere execution of forest programmes, originally prepared by the forest department, does not seem promising. Participation of villagers in the initial stages of developing micro-plans can lead to empowerment of locals by instilling a sense of ownership, planning and decision-making. Granting ownership rights to forest dependent communities may facilitate greater participation by involving more people in JFM activities.

Representation of women and members from vulnerable communities such as SCs and STs is critical in determining the success of JFM programmes. Taking into consideration indigenous knowledge required for planting native varieties is also essential. Gram Panchayats should be involved in selecting the sites and plant species for afforestation.

In addition to existing forest conservation programmes, awareness campaigns and subject specific training programmes will not only contribute to capacity building but also ensure improved practices and dignified livelihoods. There is a need to put in place monitoring and evaluation, and a system of social audit to assess the ecological, social and economic impact of such programmes.

An evaluation of the extent to which adoption of the legislative framework has responded to the needs of the local people is another significant realm. Preference should be given to the needs of the local communities, which is the intent of the law. The salient features of the State JFM Notification (1993) and PFM Rules (2001), over time, might create a mismatch with the evolving needs of people and changing land and climate conditions due to overexploitation of forests for infrastructure development and urbanisation.

External aid pumps much-needed fiscal support into the existing forestry framework in Himachal Pradesh. However, the success and effectiveness of a donor-driven initiative largely depends upon its ability to engage people in forest management activities and ensure continued collaboration between forest department and local communities, even after the life of the project. In the past, lack of consistency in the execution of forest conservation projects and absence of sustainable participatory afforestation practices have compromised the very agenda of the forest department.

Recent measures

This year, in February, the Supreme Court partially removed a ban on green felling in Himachal Pradesh by allowing limited silviculture felling across three districts. Partial removal of this blanket ban after more than two decades will allow regeneration, felling, and thinning of trees, thereby promoting the health of the forest.

Entitlement to a significant share in financial gains received from the sale of timber is another incentive. The extent of participation in co-management of forests, including integration of village micro-plans into Forest Department’s Working Plans, will play a vital role in long-term sustenance of conservation and regeneration activities.

In addition, the present State government in an effort to increase the forest cover recently introduced three forestry schemes—Samudayik Van Samvardhan Yojna, Vidyarthi Van Mitra Yojna, and Van Samridhi, Jan Samridhi Yojna—with a special emphasis on promoting Participatory Forest Management. The proposed schemes will allocate plots in forest land to local people for plantation of useful species and to schools to carry out afforestation activities. These are welcome initiatives and shall go a long way in increasing forest cover.

Given the proven role of forests in filtering pollutants, regulating rain and water supply and restricting flooding, these measures will, in turn, significantly enhance the resilience of those very cities that are often prioritized over forest conservation and management. However, the onus for success of all such programmes rests on the capability of the Forest Development Agencies and JFMCs to sustain and continue conservation practices.

Hansika Seth is an Associate at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. She is trained as a Sociologist and a Social Worker, and has worked on issues of land rights, gender and Right to Education. At IIHS, her work focuses on land record management including institutional policy questions on land ownership, land use and the political economy of land.

Satellite image of JLN Stadium

Is Delhi ready for development based on land pooling?

Originally published on Citizen Matters on 26 October, 2018.

On 11th October the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs notified a land pooling policy under the 2021 Master Plan for Delhi, to address the large scale housing gaps in Delhi. Through this policy, Delhi is set to get 17 lakh new affordable housing units, with a capacity to accommodate 76 lakh people.

This policy signals a change in the Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) model of land acquisition and development to a ‘land pooling model’, where the private sector and land owners are both partners in the development. However, while the policy is a first step, the release of land (whether through land pooling or other means) cannot alone ensure adequate and timely delivery of affordable housing. Unless followed by proper implementation and associated safeguards, Delhi could meet the same fate as Gurgaon and Faridabad, which have a fair supply of housing, but are still severely lacking in public goods such as water supply, sanitation and road infrastructure, in the absence of which the very purpose is defeated.

The revised policy, which transfers many of DDA’s responsibilities to the private sector, thus brings up two major areas of concern: first, is the DDA ready for the implementation stage of the policy in terms of its resources and institutional capacity?

Second, will the DDA be successful in satisfying the private sector by ensuring secure returns on their investment, while simultaneously implementing a stable regulatory frame that enforces creation of public goods?

Why land pooling?

In 2013, a new Land Acquisition Act was passed, laying down procedures for granting compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement of people affected by land acquisition. This act has generally been perceived by officials as too onerous, with increased costs and delays due to litigation impacting the financial viability of urban development projects.

Land pooling, on the other hand, offers a mechanism where land-owners directly pool their land for a project, and get a share of developed land in return instead of monetary compensation. Lately, land pooling has became an acceptable mode among the landowners to aggregate land, and Amravati, the new capital of Andhra Pradesh is the most popular example of land-pooling being used for urban development.

Gujarat is one of the earliest states to use land pooling, starting with the Jamalpur scheme in Ahmedabad in 1925, and has evolved its land pooling process by continuously adapting to changed situations, achieving relative success. While several states have come up with land pooling policies, most have had weak institutional adaptations, thus affecting the implementation and return of benefits.

Punjab introduced land pooling in Greater Mohali area in 2012, but benefits to the landowners have been delayed. In Haryana, approvals required from multiple departments have stalled the final notification of the land pooling policy.

Timeline for Delhi policy

With its rising population, Delhi had begun acknowledging the need for a shift from the acquisition process to an alternative for land aggregation to meet its housing demands, and deliberations for public-private partnerships in the process of land development had begun in 2003. Since Delhi has a peculiar constitutional set up as the national capital with dual jurisdiction of Union and State governments, it took almost a decade for a formal policy to this effect to be approved in 2013. But this too was not followed up by regulations for implementation.

In 2017, the DDA came back with major amendments in the pooling policy, restricting its role to that of a facilitator and regulator, and transferring many of its responsibilities to the private sector, especially those related to development and redistribution of developed land parcels and housing units. These amendments have now been approved, replacing the 2013 policy and should be followed by implementation regulations.

Is DDA ready?

Before any development can be initiated, there are certain aspects which the DDA needs to work on, one of them being the timely revision of the Zonal Development Plans (ZDPs). Delhi has 15 zones under the Master Plan, and each has its own ZDP. It is the ZDP that would denote exact areas which are open to land pooling.

If a consortium of developers has 70 per cent of contiguous area in any sector, it can apply for a development license for that area. However, these sector boundaries are yet to be defined in the ZDPs, and this becomes an urgent prerequisite to be met by DDA to initiate the implementation of the policy.

The policy has also introduced concepts such as ‘external development charges’ and ‘tradable Floor Area Ratio (FAR)’ to the Delhi real estate market. External development charge is the amount that the builders would pay to DDA, for providing public services and infrastructure; while tradable FAR would be floor space that can be used by developers for building additional floors on certain other locations, or for trading them to other developers. Awareness about these concepts and their acceptance among the public and the stakeholders is crucial, since this would play a key role when these documents are used for transactions.

To ensure public awareness, transparency of information and confidence building among investors, DDA will need to strengthen its communication strategy significantly.

Ever since the first draft of the policy was introduced in 2009, many potential buyers have ended up putting token amounts in proposed projects, even when the area under the land pooling scheme had not yet been declared. In the absence of any real estate regulator and redressal mechanism then, the situation was not handled strategically by the DDA; the latter merely circulated a notice to not buy flats which claim to be on land developed through pooling, but could not take legal action in such cases.

Presently, the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) Act, 2016 has been enacted and would function parallelly to regulate real estate development and strengthen the buyer’s rights, but the integration of this law into the land pooling model remains to be seen.

Coordination of DDA with private sector

The private sector, understandably, has been keen to get the policy implemented and it is reported that in the ninety-five villages declared as part of the development area, land has already been aggregated by private entities. Under the new policy, there may be a sudden boost in the land development process, putting pressures on DDA and other service providers to keep pace with private development for integrated infrastructure provision.

However, with DDA’s limited capacity and lack of sufficient experience with private sector partnerships, it will have to scale up institutional capacity and resources.  The land pooling policy itself will need more elaboration on aspects such as the phasing and prioritisation of the projects.

Although Delhi has seen development through private entities and through co-operative housing societies, land pooling as a policy brings in new concepts such as providing a licence to prospective developers based on the applications made and other obligations such as checking the compliance of the submitted plans to building byelaws, implementing a proposed ‘single window system, and keeping a check on the final implementation.

The city will also need to have a mechanism to address any disputes between developers, landowners, buyers, and other stakeholders. All this will put immense strain on the limited capacity of the recently formed land pooling cell in DDA.

Ruby Moun is an Associate at Indian Institute for Human Settlements. She is trained as an architect-urban planner, and has worked on land administration, particularly related to land assembly and land records management in various states. Views expressed are personal.

Podcast: Land and Reforms in 2020

What land reforms does India need in 2020? How can we think about property rights, and a complicated legislative history and ground reality in India?

 

Shekhar Shah and Pranab Ranjan Choudhury give host Pavan Srinath a masterclass on land and reform on Episode 142 of The Pragati Podcast. They discuss what constitutes property ownership in India, what land reforms have meant between the 1950s and 1980s in India, and what they can mean in 2020. The discussion spans rural land conflicts, weak land record systems, the challenges faced by Adivasis and tribal groups being denied their legitimate rights, land acquisition, the growth of private industries, and more.

Dr Shekhar Shah is an Economist and the Director General of NCAER (@NCAER), the National Council for Applied Research in New Delhi. As a part of their Land Policy Initiative, they released the first edition of a Land Records Services Index in February 2020 and ranked Indian states and union territories. Learn more here.

Mr Pranab Ranjan Choudhury (@prchoudhury) works with the Centre for Land Governance in Odisha, and has worked for over 18 years on natural resources management and land governance across India. Read more about his work here.

 

For further listening:
Pragati Podcast #148 on the unfinished journey of women’s property rights in India, with Shipra Deo and Devendra Damle. Listen to it here

Gulabo Sitabo logo

Why land and property cobwebs make good plotlines for Bollywood

It is often said that cinema is a mirror to the society that it thrives in. The recently released film Gulabo Sitabo, directed by Shoojit Sircar with Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana in the lead, is a brilliant comedic take on the state of our property records. The very first Bollywood film to premiere entirely online; the film’s trailer created much buzz around Amitabh Bachchan’s look and the on-screen presence of the bickering duo, an elderly landlord Mirza (Bachchan) and one of his young tenants, Baankey (Khurrana).

The film is centred around the life of 78-year-old Mirza and his wife Fatima. Fatima, who is 17 years older than Mirza, is the owner of the ancient haveli in Lucknow that they live in. Fatima has let several tenants live in the haveli’s vast expanse, for rents that are next to nothing. Despite this, Baankey and his family, which consists of his three younger sisters and mother, refuse to pay their rent, partly due to their poor financial condition, and partly because of the poor condition of their living quarters. Fatima is seemingly on her deathbed, and Mirza is impatiently waiting for her to pass away so that he can inherit the haveli and evict all his troublesome tenants. As his impatience grows, Mirza goes to a lawyer to see whether he can use legal provisions to evict the tenants from the haveli.

At the lawyer’s, Mirza discovers that the haveli has been handed down to Fatima by her father without any formal document confirming her inheritance. This leads to a wild chase all over Uttar Pradesh, as Mirza tries to track down all of Fatima’s living relatives and asking them to formally give up their claim to the haveli. On the other hand, Baankey talks to government officials from the archaeology department, who discover that the haveli is worthy of being designated a historical monument. Humour and confusion ensue, as both Mirza and Baankey try to outwit each other in different ways to retain control. Sharing more would lead to spoilers but the film has all sorts of characters usually associated with transfer of land and property in India, from corrupt politicians to real estate developers, disgruntled tenants to unscrupulous middlemen.

This film joins a league of handful (but brilliantly narrated) Bollywood films that have touched upon the issue of land ownership, tenancy, confusion between land authorities and landlessness: issues that Indian citizens are all too familiar with and have internalized to an extent that these movies are not always tragedies! These movies have managed to be laughing riots or found space for romance and relationships, even as they were set amidst land disputes, which are usually the most stressful times of Indian adult lives. In this blog, we peek into Bollywood’s narration of contemporary land and property rights related issues through three other films that have used these plotlines in the past!

Do Bigha Zamin: Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin (1953) is a classic, critically acclaimed film which follows the life of a humble villager, Shambu Mahato, played by Balraj Sahni, and his family as they try to fend off a local landlord from taking their land to build a mill. Shambhu owns two bighas of land (around two-thirds of an acre), which sit right in the middle of the land owned by the local zamindar, Harnam Singh, played by Murad. Singh wishes to acquire Shambu’s land, but on being refused by Shambu, decides to take him to court based on the money that Shambu had borrowed from Singh, which he had been unable to pay back. Shambhu is given three months to pay back his debt, or risk losing his land to Singh as collateral. In portraying this story, the film touches upon the ruthless cycle of debt that the rural poor in India face. For many Indian households, the most significant assets are held in the form of land and housing. The threat to these assets and the livelihoods of these households by powerful, vested interests continues to be a horrifying reality in rural India, which is why this film from the early 1950s, continues to resonate even today. 

 Khosla ka Ghosla: One of the most popular ‘modern’ films on this theme, Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), upon its release, became an immediate hit with viewers and critics alike. This film follows the exploits of Kamal Khosla (Anupam Kher) and his family, who find their ‘dream’ plot of land, bought with Kamal’s hard-earned money, only to be encroached upon by the corrupt Kishan Khurana (Boman Irani), the leader of a local property-usurping criminal gang in Delhi. With the Khosla family getting tangled in a series of hilarious events as they deviously plan to remove the squatter i.e. Khurana, from their rightfully owned property, the film manages to weave a narrative on issues which hit a chord with most middle-class urban families. From showcasing a family’s struggle to buy and own property, to dealing with land mafia and legal disputes over property ownership, and finally taking the story to a happy ending with a good old solution of Indian jugaad, the film’s captured the lived experiences of most home buyers in urban India. Let’s hope things improve for the better as Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 starts to take root. 

Love Per Square Foot: Released exclusively on the online streaming platform, Netflix, Love Per Square Foot (2018) is a film directed by Anand Tiwari, which humanizes the many challenges surrounding real estate in Mumbai. The film shares the story of two millennials, Sanjay (Vicky Kaushal) and Karina (Angira Dhar), both of whom belong to lower-middle class families in Mumbai and dream of owning their own apartment. Through scenes which show Sanjay’s mother banging on the bathroom door while he reads a newspaper on the pot, or the ones that show plaster peeling off the ceilings at Karina’s crumbling house, the film manages to beautifully capture the reality of the millions of youngsters in Mumbai, who live in crammed houses and travel in jam-packed local trains but dream of having their own space someday. The film follows a comical set of events as Sanjay and Karina decide to con the state government’s system by entering a marriage of convenience to buy a house under a subsidized housing scheme meant for married couples. Affordable housing is a huge challenge in India’s mega cities, this film unknowingly puts a spotlight on the bureaucratic hurdles that exist even in the schemes that are launched to address this problem. Not to mention an unintentional commentary on the lack of state capacity to administer these affordable housing schemes with numerous onerous conditions. 

In a country where countless people own no land, or have insecure access to land and housing, it is inevitable that these issues get reflected in films. At the centre of these films, characters are portrayed as going to any lengths to keep their land or homes from being taken over or to accumulate new land or build a new home. Stories of property disputes from a landlord-tenant dispute to conflicts over rightful ownership, or even the humbling desperation of an individual to own a property in their name, are so commonplace, that nearly everyone relates to them. However next time you watch a movie with a similar storyline, do remember that behind all the glitz, glamour and light-hearted humour of these films, lies the all too familiar tragedy of a broken land governance system. 

Chinmay Rayarikar is a policy associate with The Quantum Hub, a policy research and communications firm.

Landscape of urban slums in Mumbai, India

Covid-19: Formalise urban slums for long-term resilience

This piece was originally published in the Hindustan Times, on 07 June, 2020.

Urban areas across the developing world are characterised by an underbelly of shanty towns, slums, and other forms of informal settlements. With the availability of affordable homes failing to keep up with rapid urbanisation and population growth, this underbelly continues to grow in most major cities, making its residents increasingly vulnerable. Once in every few years, this vulnerability gets brutally exposed, particularly during disasters, such as the current coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

The poor housing conditions within informal settlements make them a hotspot for the spread of the pandemic for many reasons. Physical distancing and frequent hand washing are near impossible in the cramped houses with shared toilet facilities. A recent study by Brookings India showed that 30% of Covid-19 containment zones in Mumbai were inside slums. Moreover, 70% of these were red zones, indicating the rapid spread of the virus in such congested areas.

So, how did we get here? The 2011 Census recorded 65 million slum dwellers, of which one-third resided in slums that did not exist on any government record. Similarly, a study by Duke University used satellite imagery to track the growth of slums in Bangalore and found nearly 2,000 slum settlements in the city, while the official records showed close to only 600 settlements. If informal settlements, and consequently their residents, do not exist on government records, it is unlikely they will receive access to basic sanitation services, let alone, quality housing or relief measures during a disaster.

This informality also causes a looming fear of eviction which, according to consulting firm FSG, discourages the residents from making an incremental investment in building better facilities. Similarly, municipal authorities view these settlements as “illegal” and de-prioritise the provision of basic services. However, experts agree that securing tenure for slum households not only increases the inclusion of slum dwellers in public welfare records, but it also leads to better economic and physical health, educational outcomes, gender equality, and better land and resource conservation. If people feel secure that their investment will not be demolished, they are more likely to pour their hard-earned money into improving their housing.

A good example is Ahmedabad’s Slum Networking Project (SNP). Initiated in 1995, it introduced a no-eviction guarantee to the city’s slum residents for a period of ten years. This encouraged residents to co-invest along with the government in laying down last-mile sanitation infrastructure, thus significantly leveraging the public finances. This created a ripple effect that led to a better economic and physical health, and educational outcomes, and was acknowledged globally as a best-practice housing policy.

As policymakers work to solve the current pandemic challenges, it will be important to reflect on the long-term measures needed to prevent similar crises. Experience and evidence suggest three measures.

One, recognise the informal. India is marked by a large informal economy, which comprises of informal workers, businesses and housings. Moving towards a way to recognise and record them officially is the first step. It has taken a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic to highlight the facts that we don’t know who these informal workers are, what their sources of incomes are, or where they live.

Two, provide security of tenure. Slums have become an integral part of our society. They impact our daily lives and cannot be wished away. The Ahmedabad SNP programme offered a short duration no-eviction guarantee, which transformed the housing conditions in the slums. Policymakers will need to innovate and offer solutions to improve the quality of housing and basic services in these settlements, such as a no-eviction guarantee, community land titles, or individual household titles, as offered by Odisha’s Jaaga Mission.

Three, partner with the community. For a country of our scale, top-down solutions can only go so far. Bottom-up solutions, involving community members and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), will allow last-mile delivery of services and minimise conflict. For example, Odisha’s Jaaga Mission, by partnering with NGOs and slum dweller associations, successfully mapped nearly 200,000 slum households in a matter of months to provide land titles and housing benefits. Even during this pandemic, state governments have acknowledged the role of NGOs in providing relief measures. This last-mile partnership, when enhanced with technology and greater transparency, can truly transform the delivery of governance at the grassroots.

The ongoing pandemic prevention and relief programmes are reactive, bandaid solutions. We need to acknowledge that this will not be the last public health emergency that we will face as a society, and we need to take a long-term view of the efforts needed to improve our collective resilience and build a more inclusive society. Thankfully, successful models exist. We just need the political will to implement them at scale.