Category Archives: Land Governance

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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.

Rainy day in a city in India

Indian courts clogged with land disputes because laws keep conflicting each other

This piece originally published in the Print, on 26 June 2019.

An estimated 7.7 million people in India are affected by conflict over 2.5 million hectares of land, threatening investments worth more than Rs 14 lakh crore. Since land is central to India’s developmental trajectory, finding a solution to land conflict is the foremost policy challenge for the Narendra Modi government. Land disputes account for the largest set of cases in Indian courts – 25 per cent of all cases decided by the Supreme Court involved land disputes, of which 30 per cent were related to acquisition; and surveys suggest that 66 per cent of all civil cases in India are related to land or property disputes. The average pendency of a land acquisition dispute case, from its creation to its resolution by the Supreme Court, is 20 years.

What’s behind land disputes?

The high incidence of legal and extra-legal disputes over land is because of legislative factors, that is, existence of numerous, conflicting laws arising from historical narratives and current policies governing property rights; and administrative factors like administration’s failure to comply with these laws. The pendency of these land dispute cases, in turn, is due to judicial factors – first, there are legal and evidentiary barriers in bringing land dispute cases to court, and then lack of judicial capacity prevents quick resolution.

Conflicting narratives, policies, and land laws

The first narrative inherited from British rule regards the state as the owner of any land not privately owned, and gives it power to redistribute land at will as largesse to select beneficiaries. Such state acquisition of land has historically been the source of considerable dispute. Centre for Policy Research’s Land Rights Initiative (CPR-LRI) estimates that these disputes constitute 30 per cent of all land litigation in the Supreme Court over the past 70 years. The LRI study of land acquisition litigation before the Supreme Court between 1950 and 2016 reveals that all litigation is with respect to privately held land. In contrast, data from Land Conflict Watch reveals that the vast majority (three-fourths) of current, on ground, extra-legal conflict over land is with respect to common lands.

The second narrative, articulated by the people – farmers and traditional communities like cattle grazers, forest dwellers, tribals, fisherfolk – views land as an economic, social, and cultural resource over which multiple groups exercise property rights. Usually, after intense on-ground contestation, the property rights of certain groups like Scheduled Tribes (STs) and tenants have been protected by the Constitution and statute.

Land laws conflict with each other because they seek to articulate these two competing narratives. For instance, the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, are sometimes seen in conflict with those of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.  The provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, are also threatened by proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act. Legal conflicts also arise when laws are enacted or amended at different times to appease different stakeholders.

Finally, many subjects pertaining to “land” are in the “state” and “concurrent” lists of the Constitution, leading to a multiplicity of original and active land laws. A first of its kind, ongoing LRI study estimates that India has over a thousand original and active, central and state land laws.

Administrative non-compliance with law

The LRI study of land acquisition disputes shows that 95 per cent of all disputes between 1950 and 2016 arose because of administrative non-compliance with the procedure for acquisition of land under the law, including the process of computation of market value compensation for land acquired. Of these, 34 per cent of disputes involved irregularities in completion of the procedure for acquisition. Almost half of the cases involved administrative unwillingness to comply with the rule of law, and the remaining half involved administrative incapacity, in part because of governmental failure to regularly update administrative manuals based on changes in the law. Moreover, the government was more likely to lose these land acquisition dispute cases before the Supreme Court.

Finally, legal disputes over land are also created by evidentiary barriers for establishing rights over land in the absence of documentary proof because of outdated/no land surveys and inaccurate/outdated land records in most states.

Judicial causes for pendency

Once a land dispute goes to court, serious judicial incapacity leads to pendency of cases because of three reasons: India’s low judge-to-people ratio; lack of financial, technical, and infrastructural capacity necessary to resolve disputes quickly, particularly at the judiciary’s lowest levels; and poor enforcement of court decisions by the government, and limited judicial capacity to follow up on such enforcement.

Policy recommendations

Eliminate legal conflicts:  No government has ever attempted an exercise to rationalise existing land laws. After the creation of an exhaustive database of all land laws in India, the Law Ministry and the Law Commission must identify, and Parliament must repeal, laws that deny rights to certain groups of people, particularly women, and eliminate conflicts between laws.

Implement rule of law: The Modi government must take steps to ensure greater administrative capacity and willingness to implement the rule of law. In addition, we need greater coordination between government departments, and better access to land data. This can be achieved through:

  • Creation of a separate Ministry of Land to serve as the nodal agency for coordinating land policy.
  • Coordinated effort between the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Department of Land Records, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, state boards of revenue, and the forest departments of each state to resolve conflicting land laws and streamline land administration.
  • Updating land administrative manuals according to changes in legislation and judicial precedent by the concerned government departments.
  • Resolving land boundary disputes between revenue and forest departments.
  • Devoting financial and technical resources to conduct land surveys and update paper records, as opposed to digitisation of existing records.
  • Ensuring government officials have both knowledge and capacity to implement the rule of law.
  • Carefully evaluating the likelihood of success of an appeal before preferring it. Government officials must be incentivised for not appealing cases with little likelihood of success.
  • Committing to transparent land administration and complying with obligations under the Right to Information Act, 2005. In addition, the government must open departmental data on compliance with land laws to public scrutiny.

Judicial reforms: The first step in this direction would be the implementation of key recommendations of the Law Commission. These include:

  • Changing the base for determining sanctioned posts for judges from ‘judge-to-population ratio’ to ‘rate of disposal method’.
  • Filling up all existing vacancies.
  • Increasing retirement age of subordinate judges to 62; and those of high courts and Supreme Court to 65 and 68 years, respectively.
  • Greater financial allocations to the lower and higher judiciary.

Some states like Bihar have created separate land tribunals for quick resolution of land revenue cases. This model can be studied, and, if found effective, replicated in other states.

Due to increasing population pressure on land, and the corresponding demand for land to fuel the development engine, the scale and scope of land conflict today has assumed gigantic proportions, stalling development projects and threatening livelihoods and investments. Equitable and efficient intergenerational management of land is necessary not just for India’s economic development, but also for its political and social stability. Therefore, working towards resolving land conflict, in light of the above policy recommendations, is an imperative agenda for the Modi government.

Urban landscape in India

Understanding Land Conflict in India and Suggestions for Reform

This piece was originally published on the CPR India website on 26 June, 2019.

An estimated 7.7 million people in India are affected by conflict over 2.5 million hectares of land, threatening investments worth $ 200 billion.1 Land disputes clog all levels of courts in India, and account for the largest set of cases in terms of both absolute numbers and judicial pendency. About 25% of all cases decided by the Supreme Court involve land disputes, of which 30% concern disputes relating to land acquisition.2 Again, 66% of all civil cases in India are related to land/property disputes.3 The average pendency of a land acquisition dispute, from creation of the dispute to resolution by the Supreme Court, is 20 years.  Since land is central to India’s developmental trajectory, finding a solution to land conflict is one of the foremost policy challenges for India.

Understanding Incidence and Pendency of Land Conflict in India 

Legislative and administrative factors are responsible for the high incidence of legal and extralegal conflicts over land, and judicial factors are behind the pendency of land disputes. Competing historical and current policy narratives of property rights over land, have resulted in the coexistence of numerous, conflicting laws leading to legal disputes over land. This is the legislative factor. This problem is compounded by administrative failure to comply with the rule of law. This is the administrative factor. The pendency of conflict, in turn, is a result of legal and evidentiary barriers in bringing land disputes to court, largely due to administrative and judicial incapacity; this prevents expeditious resolution of land disputes. This is the judicial factor.

Conflicting narratives, policies and land laws create land disputes

There are two conflicting narratives about ownership and management of land in India. The first narrative – inherited from the British colonial state5 – views common land, or land that is not privately owned, as merely a commodity, no different from labour and capital, with the state as the ultimate owner.6 This claim to ultimate ownership gives the state the power to redistribute land at will, as largesse to selected beneficiaries.7 Such state acquisition of land has historically been the source of considerable dispute. According to estimates by CPR’s Land Rights Initiative (LRI), these disputes constitute 30% of all land litigation in the Supreme Court over the past 70 years. LRI’s comprehensive study of land acquisition litigation before the Supreme Court over a 66-year period, from 1950 to 2016, reveals that all litigation is with respect to privately held land. In contrast, data from the Land Conflict Watch project reveals that the vast majority of current, on-ground, extralegal conflict over land is with respect to common lands.8 Thus, it is clear that in the face of state acquisition of land, when people have legally recognized land rights, they go to court. Where their rights are insufficiently recognized by law, they protest on the ground.

The second narrative – articulated by the ‘people’, including farmers, both landowners and tenants; and other traditional communities, such as cattle grazers, forest dwellers, tribals and fisherfolk – views land as an economic, social and cultural resource over which multiple groups exercise property rights. Usually, after intense on-ground contestation, the property rights of certain groups like Scheduled Tribes (STs)and tenants have been protected by the Constitution9 and statute,10 while in case of other groups like fisherfolk,11 their rights are protected by custom and, often, executive action.

As a consequence of these two historically competing policy narratives, the constitutional, legislative and administrative framework governing land is as fragmented as the land holdings in India.12 Enacted at different points of time, land laws clash with each other, because they seek to articulate in law these two competing narratives. For instance, the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, are in conflict with those of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and are also threatened by proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act.13 Legal conflicts also arise when laws are enacted or amended at different times to appease different stakeholders. For instance, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act has, in the five years since it came into force, been amended by seven state legislatures.14 This will likely create more legal disputes with respect to land acquisition, because the original RFCTLARR Act provisions had been included with a view to addressing growing conflict over land acquisition.15 Moreover, in many states, we find laws that provide for eviction of unauthorized occupants over public lands coexisting with laws that provide for regularization of unauthorized occupation, thereby creating potential for dispute/conflict at the level of law itself.16

Finally, the legislative landscape is complicated by the fact that many subjects pertaining to ‘land’ are in the ‘state’ and ‘concurrent’ lists of the Constitution, leading to a multiplicity of original and active land laws.17 Yet, there is no official comprehensive database of all land laws in India. A first of its kind, ongoing LRI study estimates that India has over a thousand original and active central and state land laws.18

The problem of ‘multiple laws’ is exacerbated by the fact that these laws are administered by numerous government ministries at the central level, and departments at the state level. These include, for instance, the ministries of Law and Justice, Rural Development, Mining, Industries, Infrastructure, Urban Development, Tribal Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence.

Administrative non-compliance with law also creates and prolongs land disputes  

Where laws are clear, disputes and conflicts arise because of administrative non-compliance with the rule of law due to both unwillingness and incapacity. The LRI study of all Supreme Court cases on land acquisition during 1950-2016 shows that 95% of the disputes arose because of administrative non-compliance with the legal procedure for acquisition of land, including the process of computation of market value compensation for land acquired.19 Around 34% of the disputes involved irregularities in completion of the procedure for acquisition. Almost half of such cases concerned with procedural irregularities involved administrative unwillingness to comply with the rule of law. The remaining half of the cases involved administrative incapacity to comply with the rule of law, in part because of governmental failure to regularly update administrative manuals based on changes in the law. Moreover, the government was more likely to lose than win these land disputes before the Supreme Court.20

Additionally, since colonial times, land in India has been broadly administered by the revenue and forest departments. But there have also always existed disputes between both departments as to which land belongs to which department. This in turn creates and prolongs land disputes.

Finally, legal disputes over land are also created by evidentiary barriers for establishing rights over land in the absence of documentary proof21 because of outdated/no land surveys22 and inaccurate/outdated land records23 in most states. The Department of Land Resources has sought to resolve the problem of inaccurate land records through the ‘Digitisation of Land Records Modernisation Programme’. However, unless the government makes a serious attempt to update land records on the ground to reflect the property rights of all landowners, digitizing them would not eliminate the problem of inaccurate land records.

Judicial reasons cause pendency of land disputes

Once a land dispute goes to court, serious judicial incapacity leads to pendency of disputes. First, a major cause for pendency of all disputes is India’s low judge-to-people ratio.24 Land cases form more than half of all civil cases and constitute over a quarter of cases before the Supreme Court; they also have the longest pendency compared to other cases. Hence low judge-to-people ratio particularly prolongs resolution of land disputes. Second, the judiciary, particularly at its lowest levels, lacks the financial, technical and infrastuctural capacity necessary to resolve disputes quickly.25 Finally, poor enforcement of court decisions by the government, and limited judicial capacity to follow up on such enforcement, especially when such decisions go against the government, also lead to prolonging of land disputes.

Policy Recommendations for Reducing Incidence and Pendency of Land Disputes 

Eliminate legal conflicts. No government has ever attempted an exercise to rationalize existing land laws. But this is the need of the hour. The Law Ministry and Law Commission are best positioned to conduct or commission such an exercise. This would involve, first, the creation of an exhaustive database of all land laws in India. Once such a database of laws is created, the Law Ministry and Law Commission must identify, and Parliament must repeal, laws that deny rights of certain groups of people, particularly women,26 and eliminate genuine conflicts between laws.

Improve administrative willingness and capacity to implement the rule of law: The government must take steps to ensure greater administrative capacity and willingness to implement the rule of law. In addition, we need greater coordination between government departments dealing with land, transparency of land administration, and better access to land data. This can be achieved by undertaking the following measures.

  • The Department of Land Resources, currently under the Ministry of Rural Development, is the nodal agency for coordination of land policy across states. But land is not merely a rural concern. As India becomes increasingly urbanized, the government needs to have a more comprehensive imagination of land requirements for rural and urban populations. The creation of a separate Ministry of Land to serve as the nodal agency for coordinating land policy across different types of land is critical.
  • There needs to be a coordinated effort between the Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Land Records, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, state boards of revenue, and state forest departments to resolve conflicting land laws and streamline land administration.
  • All government departments dealing with land, and particularly those involved in land acquisition, must update administrative manuals in accordance with changes in legislation and judicial precedent.
  • Through dedicated interdepartmental meetings and other coordination, government must resolve land boundary disputes between the revenue and forest departments.
  • The government must devote financial and technical resources to conduct land surveys and update paper records to reflect property rights of all the people, as opposed to digitization of existing records that are substantially inaccurate.
  • The government must ensure better skills training so that officials dealing with land have both the knowledge and the capacity to implement the rule of law. Institutional mechanisms should be designed to incentivize compliance with, not defiance of, the rule of law.
  • Given the low success rate of government appeals, the government must carefully evaluate the likelihood of success of an appeal before pursuing it. Government officials must be incentivized to not appeal cases that have little likelihood of success following such an evaluation. This would go a long way in reducing pendency of land disputes.
  • The government must wholly commit to transparent land administration and comply with its obligations under the Right to Information Act, 2005, to make digitally accessible all land laws, executive notifications, rules, circulars, etc. pertaining to land administration. In addition, the government must open up to public scrutiny departmental data on compliance with land laws.

In addition to legislative and administrative reforms, judicial reforms can go a long way towards reducing the pendency of land litigation in India. The first step in this direction would be the implementation of key recommendations of the Law Commission.27 These include:

  • Changing the base for determining sanctioned posts for judges from ‘Judge: Population Ratio’ to ‘Rate of Disposal Method
  • Filling up all existing vacancies
  • Increasing the retirement age of subordinate judges to 62; and those of  High Court and Supreme Court judges to 65 and 68 years respectively.
  • Greater financial allocations to the lower and higher judiciary, to enable infrastructure, technical and skills upgradation

Some states like Bihar have created separate land tribunals for expeditious resolution of land revenue cases. This model should be studied, and if found effective, should be replicated in other states.

Conclusion

Land conflict in India, both legal and extralegal, has existed from colonial times because of the imposition by the British state of the notion that all land not privately held belongs to the ‘state’. This concept has been continuously resisted by the ‘people’ who were disempowered by the colonial state’s deprivation of their legal property rights under precolonial administration. Over time, competing ‘state’ and ‘people’ narratives over land have led to conflicting policy and legal interventions. This has, in turn, led to legal disputes over land. Even when laws are clear, administrative failure to comply with the rule of law, due to unwillingness and incapacity, contributes to the incidence and pendency of land disputes. Serious judicial incapacity in turn prolongs pendency of land disputes.

Due to the increasing population pressure on land, and the corresponding demand for land to fuel the development engine, the scale and scope of land conflict today has assumed gigantic proportions, stalling development projects and threatening livelihoods and investments. Equitable and efficient intergenerational management of land is necessary not just for India’s economic development, but also for its political and social stability. Therefore, working towards resolving land conflict, in light of the above policy recommendations, is an imperative agenda for the new government.

Other pieces as part of CPR’s policy document, ‘Policy Challenges – 2019-2024’ can be accessed below:


Land Conflict Watch, https://www.landconflictwatch.org/.
This is based on preliminary findings from a CPR Land Rights Initiative study, and is also consistent with findings from a comprehensive quantitative study of the Supreme Court’s caseload between 1993 and 2011. See Nick Robinson, ‘A Quantitative Analysis of the Indian Supreme Court’s Workload’, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies,10(3) (2003): 570-601.
Daksh, ‘Access to Justice Survey, 2016’, http://dakshindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Daksh-access-to-justice….
Namita Wahi et al., ‘Land Acquisition in India: A Review of Supreme Court Cases from 1950 to 2016’ (New Delhi: CPR, 2017).
Articles 294 and 295 of the Indian Constitution stipulate that the Indian state succeeds to all property, claims and assets of the British state.
B.H. Baden Powell, The Land Systems of British India (Oxford University Press: 1892); B.H. Baden Powell, A Manual of Jurisprudence for Forest Officers Being a Treatise on Forest Laws (Calcutta, 1882).
An LRI study estimates that there are 102 laws of land acquisition alone, including state amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Supra note 4.
‘Land Conflicts in India: An Interim Analysis’, https://rightsandresources.org/en/publication/land-conflicts-india-inter….
Article 244(1) and Article 244(2), read with the Fifth and Sixth Schedules respectively, create special protections for land rights of Scheduled Tribes in geographically demarcated areas, known as Scheduled Areas.
10 Starting with the Bengal Tenancy Act, 1885, almost each agrarian state has laws protecting tenancy rights. Similarly, the Forest Rights Act, 2006, recognizes land rights of Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwelling communities.
11 A prolonged movement has sought the enactment of a Fishing Rights Act, along the lines of the Forest Rights Act.
12 86.21% of all land holdings in India are small and marginal holdings taken together (0.00-2.00 ha). See Census of India.
13 Nitin Sethi et al., ‘Modi government plans more draconian version of colonial-era Indian Forest Act’, The Wire, 21 March 2019, https://thewire.in/rights/modi-government-plans-more-draconian-version-o…
14 These include the states of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. See Namita Wahi, ‘How central and state governments diluted the historic land legislation of 2013’, The Economic Times https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/how-centra….
15 Jairam Ramesh et al., Legislating for Justice: The Making of the 2013 Land Acquisition Law (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015); Namita Wahi, ‘The Story of Jairam Rajya’ India Today, June 2015, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/books/story/20150622-jairam-ramesh-la….
16 Ongoing LRI study on ‘One Thousand Land Laws’.
17 Article 246 read with the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.
18 CPR ‘Land Laws’ Database; see: https://www.cnbctv18.com/legal/hundreds-of-indian-land-laws-cause-confus….
19 Wahi et al., ‘Land Acquisition in India’.
20 Ibid. p. 28.
21 Sections 61-64 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, emphasize that documents must be proved by primary evidence, that is, presentation of the document itself. However, many people with legally recognized land rights do not have documentary proof for the same. This makes judicial resolution of land disputes extremely difficult.
22 Much of the northeastern part of India, including the state of Assam, has never been fully surveyed. The last full land survey for the state of Bihar happened in 1950s-1960s.
23 Former Minister for Rural Development notes that the state’s failure to fairly compensate those who lost land under the 1894 Act arose due to inaccurate land records, rampant undervaluation of sale deeds, and absence of land markets in many rural areas. See Ramesh et al., Legislating for Justice.
24 Two reports – the 245th Law Commission Report on ‘Arrears and Backlog: Creating Additional Judicial (Wo)man) power’ (2014), http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/Report_No.245.pdf, and the 230th Law Commission Report on ‘Reforms in the Judiciary: Some Suggestions’, http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report230.pdf – highlight this as a major cause for disputes.
25 Ibid.
26 Bina Agarwal, ‘Gender and Legal Rights in Agricultural Land in India’, Economic and Political Weekly A39 30(12) (March 1995).
27 Supra note 24. (Q: Pl give direct source)
28 245th Law Commission Report, 29.

Picture of a landscape in rural India

Land conflict rampant in India because Constitution has made sparse reference to it

This piece was originally published in the Print, on 28 February 2020.

Land conflict, which fundamentally threatens the social contract that binds us together as a nation, is ubiquitous in India today. An estimated seven million Indians are affected by on-ground conflict over 2.5 million hectares of land, which threatens investments worth $200 billion. Land disputes clog all levels of courts in India, accounting for the largest set of cases in absolute numbers and judicial pendency.

The Centre for Policy Research-Land Rights Initiative (CPR-LRI) estimates that a quarter of the total number of cases decided by the Supreme Court over the past 70 years involved land disputes, of which a third pertained to land acquisition.

Scant references to land

A Constitution as ponderous as India’s is surprisingly sparse in its reference to land. Spread over 395 articles in 22 parts and eight schedules at the time of its formation, the original Indian Constitution mentioned “land” in only four parts.

First, in Part III, with reference to the now abolished fundamental right to property embodied in Articles 19(1)(f) and Article 31, which recognised the rights of all citizens to “acquire, hold, and dispose of property”, and provided constitutional safeguards against the exercise of the state’s power of eminent domain.

Second, in Part X, read with the Fifth and Sixth Schedules to the Constitution, while referring to geographically demarcated areas for Scheduled Tribes called “Scheduled Areas”. LRI estimates that 13 per cent of India’s geographical area falls within Scheduled Areas in 14 states today.

Third, in Part XI, read with the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, with reference to the distribution of legislative powers between Parliament and state legislatures. “Land” was identified as a state subject, while many subjects pertaining to land, were included in the Concurrent List, on which both Parliament and state assemblies can legislate. LRI’s Mapping Indian Land Laws project has compiled over a thousand original and active central, and state laws pertaining to land.

Finally, in the “succession clause” embodied in Part XII of the Constitution, which provided for the Indian government’s succession to all obligations and entitlements of the British government with respect to contracts, property and assets, including land.

These sparse references to “land” in the original Constitution are surprising for two reasons.

First, at the time the Constitution was drafted, an estimated 80 per cent of all Indians were dependent on land for their livelihood, and more than half of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) came from agriculture and allied rural occupations. Second, not only had land conflict punctuated two hundred years of British rule in India but “land” had also been central to the independence movement’s struggle to establish a new social and economic order premised on rapid economic development and social redistribution, even as Indians sought to control their political destiny.

Legitimising state’s power over people

Admittedly, the fundamental right to property was one of the most contentious provisions in the drafting of the Indian Constitution. The debate on Article 31 began early in the Constituent Assembly, even while the terms of independence were being worked out, culminating two-and-a-half years later in a cumbersome compromise clause. This clause legitimised the state’s power to forcibly acquire property, including land, pursuant to a validly enacted law, for a “public purpose”, and upon payment of “just compensation”.

Subsequent amendments to the Constitution eviscerated Article 31 of its content, until it was eventually abolished by the 44th constitutional amendment in 1978. The same amendment inserted Article 300A, which removed the constitutional safeguards of “public purpose” and “just compensation” from the exercise of the state’s power of eminent domain. Done ostensibly to aid the state’s redistributive agenda, the period since the abolition of the “fundamental right to property” has in fact seen a far greater increase in economic inequalities and “land grabs” than when the right was intact.

The Constituent Assembly debates on creation of “Scheduled Areas” were less contentious than the debate on the fundamental right to property. This was possibly because the voices of Scheduled Tribe representatives highlighting the special relationship Adivasis with land, and the need for their development according to their own genius, were effectively drowned by the dominant statist and integrationist discourse in the Assembly. Unsurprisingly then, despite being the only group in the Constitution with special land rights, STs constitute the group that has been most displaced since Independence.

Of course, discussions on the rights of other forest-dwelling communities, cattle grazers, and fisherfolk are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, the deceptively innocuous succession clause in Part XII of the Constitution constitutionalised the British state’s illegal appropriation of “people’s” lands by allowing the Indian state to take over all land and property claimed by the former. Moreover, less contentious was the debate on Article 19(1)(f), which gave hitherto disempowered groups such as women and Dalits the right to acquire or inherit property in land.

A flawed architecture for modern India

70 years since Independence, though the contributions of agriculture and allied rural occupations have shrunk to a quarter of India’s GDP, almost 60 per cent of the country’s population is still dependent upon land, primarily agriculture, for livelihood.

After many arduous struggles, laws like the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and particularly its amendments post millennium; the Forest Rights Act, 2006; the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, have legally recognised the property rights of women, forest-dwellers, tenants, sharecroppers, fisherfolk, and cattle grazers. But these laws continue to be negated by a contrary legal regime of land alienation and inheritance laws, land acquisition, forests, and mining laws that after 1978 must no longer comply with fundamental property rights guarantees.

At a time when “erosion of civil liberties” has been cited as the reason for India’s steep slide down The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Democracy Index, the history of constitutional guarantees on land is a sobering reminder of how weighted the power of the postcolonial state was against the rights of “we the people” at the Constitution’s founding. This also calls attention to how the systematic evisceration of these limited constitutional protections have brought us to a situation where the wealth of top nine Indian billionaires is comparable to the wealth of the bottom 50 per cent of the Indian population.

The founders and architects of modern India had a robust vision for our “republic”, even as they endowed us with a flawed architecture for its realisation. As inequalities sharpen the divide between Indians, and land conflict continues to grow, in the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, the odds are piling up against our ability to “keep it”.

Performance of the Supreme Court and tenure of Chief Justices of India: An observational analysis (1950 to 2019)

This is a tentative and an exploratory analysis to assess the productivity of the Supreme Court of India (SC) under different Chief Justices of India (CJI) in terms of accomplished adjudications, which is its core function. In particular, we study the number of judgements passed by the apex court per day during the tenure of a CJI and its relationship with the proportion of tenure days when at least one judgement was passed by the SC. Our analysis is for the time period of January 26, 1950, until the September 2, 2019. It is important to mention upfront that important questions regarding jurisprudence, quality of judgement and independence of judiciary are beyond the scope of this paper.

Some key observations: 

  1. Over this period, the Supreme Court of India has had 46 Chief Justices. We analyse the tenure of each CJI to study the productivity of the apex court and how it varied across CJIs.
  2. The Indian Parliament increased the number of Judges in the Supreme Court of India from 8 in 1950 to 11 in 1956. This was further increased to 14 in 1960, 18 in 1978 and 26 in 1986.
  3. Accomplished adjudications (Judgements passed): A total of 51,534 judgements have been passed by the SC during this 69-year period. The lowest number of judgements, 48, were passed during the tenure of CJI Amal Kumar Sarkar, who was in office from March 16, 1966 to June 29, 1966. The highest number of judgements, 7069, were passed by the SC during the tenure of CJI K G Balakrishnan who was in office from January 14, 2007 to May 12, 2010. The average number of judgements passed during the tenure of a CJI is 1120 and the standard deviation [SD] was 1311.
  4. Length of tenure: There is significant variation in the length of tenure of a CJI. CJI Kamal Narain Singh was in office from November 25, 1991 to December 12, 1991, a total of 17 days. CJI Y V Chandrachud, on the other hand, was in office from February 22, 1978 to July 11, 1985, a total of 2696 days (or a little over seven years). The mean tenure of a CJI was approximately 552 days and the standard deviation was approximately 503.
  5. Number of judgements passed per day: We find variations in the number of judgements passed per day by the SC under tenure of a CJI. For example, during the tenure of CJI H J Kania, who was in office from January 26, 1950 to November 6, 1951, a total of 649 days, the SC passed a total of 128 judgements at the rate of approximately 0.20 (128/649) judgements per day of his tenure. At the other end of the distribution is the tenure of CJI K G Balakrishnan. He was in office for 1214 days, when a total of 7069 judgements were passed by the SC at the rate of approximately 5.82 (7069/1214) judgments per day. The average ‘Number of Judgements Passed by the SC per day’ over tenures of all CJIs during the period of the study was 2.24 with SD of 1.35. We present the results for each CJI in Figure 1.
  6. Proportion of ‘Judgement days’: Next, we analyse the variations in the proportion of tenure days when at least one (one or more) judgements were passed by the SC during a CJI’s tenure. For example, during the tenure of CJI Y V Chandrachud who was in office for 2696 days, there were 1106 days when at least one judgement was passed by the SC. Therefore, the proportion of ‘judgement days’ during CJI Y V Chandrachud’s tenure was approximately 0.41 (1106/2696). This means that 41% of days under his tenure saw at least one accomplished adjudication by the Supreme Court of India. The remaining 59% days under his tenure saw no accomplished adjudication by the SC. We call this variable ‘Proportion of Judgement Days’ under a CJI. The average proportion of Judgement Days across all CJIs was 0.45 and the SD is 0.12. This is presented in Figure 2.

Figure 1: Number of Judgements Passed by SC per Day under Each CJI

Accelerating_Fig-1-01

Figure 2: Proportion of Judgement Days to Total Days in CJI Tenure

2

7. Productivity of Supreme Court of India: To understand the dynamics of productivity (narrowly defined as the total number of judgements passed per day by the SC), we scrutinise the relationship between number of judgements passed per day by the SC (under a given CJI) and the proportion of judgment days when at least one judgement was passed by the SC (under a given CJI). We present this relationship in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Productivity Increasing with Proportion of Judgement Days

3

In order to derive this relationship, we ran the following regression:

 

formula 1

What does the above relationship mean? The observed relationship between the number of judgements passed per day by the SC under a CJI and the proportion of judgement days under that CJI means the following:

a) Number of judgements passed per day by the SC under a CJI is increasing at an increasing rate with the proportion of judgement days under that CJI. The implications of this can be illustrated with the help of an example. Consider two CJIs (say CJIA and CJIB), both of whom have the same length of tenure, say 100 days. If the proportion of judgement days under CJIA was 0.5, while for CJIB it was 0.6 (so 20% higher than CJIA)– then the empirical relationship in Figure 3 would imply that the expected number of judgements passed per day by SC under CJIwould be approximately 2.7, while it would be much higher at 4.7 judgements per day under CJIB. That is, the number of judgements per day under CJIB would be approximately 74% higher than number of judgements per day under CJIA.

b) We also compute the elasticity (Ꜫ) between total number of judgements passed by SC per day and the proportion of judgement days in the tenure of a CJI. We define elasticity (Ꜫ) as the percentage change in total number of judgements passed by SC per day if there was a 1% increase in the proportion of judgement days in the tenure of a CJI. From the observed relationship we compute the following:

formula 2

For example, we compare CJIA and CJIB who have the same length of tenure but differ in terms of the proportion of judgement days in their tenure. If the proportion of judgement days under CJIA is 0.5 while for CJIB it is 0.6, then a 1% increase in the proportion of judgement days under CJIA would imply an increase of approximately 2.8% in the total number of judgements passed by SC per day of tenure of the CJIA; while for CJIB, this increase would be approximately 3.4%. This implies that the elasticity is increasing with the proportion of judgement days under a CJI.

c) Based on this robust empirical relationship, we compute a counterfactual from the data: how many more total judgements would have been passed by the SC, if the proportion of judgement days were increased by 10%, given the existing lengths of CJI tenure? Our analysis reveals that approximately 14,359 additional judgements would have been passed by the SC if the proportion of judgement days increased by a mere 10%. This amounts to an increase of approximately 28% of the total SC judgements passed in the lifespan of the apex court since 1950.

d) We do not find a statistically significant relationship between bench strength (in terms of total number judges) and the number of judgements per day.

Conclusion

We analyse publicly available data for the Supreme Court of India to study the variations in its productivity over time under different Chief Justices of India. For reasons of data availability, this analysis is narrow in scope and limited to quantitative measures of productivity of the apex court. We define productivity using number of judgements per day and the proportion of judgement days under a given CJI. This productivity is likely to vary by the quantum of cases at the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, this data is not available, therefore, we standardise it only by the tenure length. While the number of Justices and the number of cases have changed substantially over time, it is interesting to note that the relationship does not vary linearly over time, and moreover, there is no significant relationship between bench strength and number of judgements per day. For example, the court productivity from 1990-2010 improved as compared to 1980 but declined after 2010. The empirical analysis reveals that number of judgements per day is primarily influenced by proportion of judgement days under a given CJI, there was no evidence that increased bench strength has any significant impact on number of judgements per day. The objective of this study is to initiate a set of broader empirical research and discussions to gain greater insights into the judicial administrative ecosystem of the apex court. These can contribute to informed and constructive interventions and needed judicial reforms in the country.

Data Source: India Kanoon website https://indiankanoon.org/. We also compared the number of SC judgements listed on the India Kanoon website with number of judgements listed on the Supreme Court website at https://sci.gov.in/judgments to determine the accuracy of the data. We could not find any discrepancy between the two websites for the random checks performed.

This piece was original published on the Brookings website on 22 October 2019

Need to Redefine the Purpose of Land Records in India

Recent slowdown of the Indian economy has been a matter of concern for policymakers. The 5 per cent growth rate for the fiscal year 2019-20 is far below the desired double digit growth rate for India, attributable to a mix of both, internal and external factors. India’s economic journey proves to be an example of partial success. The early success was triggered by the liberalization efforts in 1991 entailing the removal of industrial controls and licenses, following a phase of socialist policies for about three decades post-independence (with a Hindu growth rate of 3.5 per cent). After the economic reforms in 1991, the growth rate reached around 5 per cent for the three year period of 1994-97. However, external factors like global economic crisis have dwindled this economic growth, the last one being the global financial crisis in 2008-09. Since the crisis, India has not been able to recover and attain the desired double digit growth, something that China exhibited in its peak years. The unsustainable growth model of India despite the macro-economic reforms reflects the inherent weaknesses of the economy in the form of domestic rigidities.

Land Policy and Governance, an Impediment to India’s Economic Growth

A major area of concern that drags the growth of the economy has been the festering issue of land policy. Issues and challenges surface now and then in the form of widespread land scams, litigation cases, land acquisition hurdles, distorted land pricing mechanism. The root cause of the problem lies in the failure of Indian administration to have evolved from the British era’s land record and revenue measures. Lack of attention given to land record management in India is reflected in the dearth of any major change in the land record management system over the years.

Evolution of Land Record Management: What is the Missing Link?

Under the British, the purpose of land records was tax revenue collection; the format of the records thus was a reflection of that. Over the years, the objective of land based revenue collection has reduced significantly – for one of the largest Indian States, Uttar Pradesh, the land revenue collection as a percentage of total tax revenue has fallen from 40 per cent in 1957-58 to a minuscule proportion of 0.3 per cent in 2019-20. Despite this redundancy, the land records for most of Indian States/UTs continue to exhibit the relevant columns for tax revenue collection details. This signifies lack of priority conferred upon the land record quality and its relevance as per the current needs.

Post-independence, a slew of land reforms were proposed and introduced across India. The blueprint for these reforms as laid out by the Centre at the time essentially addressed six essential issues:
a) Abolition of intermediaries
b) Abolition or regulation of tenancy and improving the security of the tenants
c) Fixation of ceilings on landholdings and redistribution of surplus land
d) Payment of compensation for acquired lands
e) Consolidation of holdings
f) Choice of appropriate form of organisation and promotion of cooperatives

However, land being a state subject, the implementation of these reforms varied across states. This has translated into divergent paths of land policy and governance in Indian States/UTs. This disparity is also reflected in the land records across states, characterized by the lack of standardized formats of data collection and recording one comes across in India.

With the objective of land records management for land revenue collection becoming a thing of the past, land revenue officials are also observed to be lax in their attitude towards record keeping and management. Instead of redefining land records as a proof of land/property ownership, these officials have been loaded with miscellaneous work like natural disaster management and municipal duties that gives them lesser time to focus on land records accuracy and quality.

Changing the Objective of Land Record Management

With the transition of country from an agrarian economy to a more industry and services driven economy, it is imperative that land records capture details relevant for the times. Today, accurate land records are the minimum essential requirements for supporting efficient and hassle free development. These records must necessarily reflect ground reality and capture all the possible encumbrances – mortgages, litigation cases, land acquisition proceeding or land-use restrictions – clearly to limit the dispute cases and hence make the transaction efficient.

An assessment of the Digital India Land Record Modernization Program (DI-LRMP) conducted by National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in Himachal Pradesh revealed that around 72 per cent of cases with a variation between reported and the on-ground possession, were due to excessive joint ownership. With such a scenario, when the on-ground subdivision is not reflected in the land records, the chances of it being used as ownership proof for any possible loan from financial institutions slims down, adversely impacting the growth of mortgage market. Further, unclear ownership also makes acquisition processes tedious and long drawn, causing significant escalation of project costs.

Poor land record management also often serves to be the raison d’être for legal disputes over the land/property. Often, the area/extent of land recorded in the legal documents is found to vary with respect to the ground situation. Surveys/Re-surveys in Indian States/UTs have progressed at a snail’s place or have been stalled due to lack of priority towards such detailing. This lack of attention essentially derives from the fact that land revenue collection is no longer the objective of the land record departments.

NCAER’s recent work on creating a nationwide land records and services index has shown, that barring some instances of mortgages, other restrictions/conditions over a plot of land are seldom noted in the textual records. Only 2 states were found to record civil court cases concerning land parcels, while 8 States/UTs were found to record an instance of revenue court cases. With such a poor record of ongoing court cases, property is likely to exchange hands on illegitimate grounds and can further accentuate the chances of legal disputes.

It is clear that there is an urgent need for land record departments across States/UTs to re-orient their focus on ensuring quality and accuracy of land records. Re-establishing land records as a tool for ensuring well-functioning mortgage market and for limiting the land/property related disputes is essential. Clear land records can be a major step towards removing bottlenecks to land reforms in India, and the sooner it happens, the better the chances of spurring rapid growth in India get.

 

This piece was originally published in Arthasha-Stree, Prerna Prabhakar’s personal blog.

A measure of their worth

India’s first Land Records and Services Index is a way to gauge States’ relative performance and help improve services on the ground

The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) recently released India’s first Land Records and Services Index (N-LRSI), 2020, based on data collected over 2019-20 on two aspects of the supply of records — the extent of digitisation of land records and its quality. The first component, which aims to assess whether a State has made all its records digitally available to citizens, looks at three dimensions — the text (also called the record of rights), the official map associated with a land record (also called cadastral maps) and the property registration process. The second component of the index aims to assess if the data is comprehensive and reliable. Whether ownership details are updated as soon as a sale occurs; the extent of joint ownership; type of land use; size of the plot on the record and on the map and if encumbrances are being recorded (other claims on the property such as mortgages and court cases). All these elements are closely connected to property disputes and to the ease with which transactions can be completed, legally recorded and accessed. Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu are the five best-performing States on the index.

One of the unique features of the N-LRSI, 2020 is its ability to assess the relative performance of States on various components and sub-components of the index. There is no State/UT that emerges victorious on all the parameters of the index as they are at different stages of progress with regard to the extent of digitisation of records and the registration process. For improved land record management, laggard States should extract lessons from the better-performing ones on various parameters, which can possibly drive change in State-level policies. While for textual record digitisation, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Goa appeared to be leading, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh topped the list for spatial record digitisation. For the registration component, Maharashtra emerged as the leader, while Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh were front runners due to quality records.

The findings will enable States to make efforts in the direction of creating more comprehensive and accurate records, by adopting the initiatives that successful States have made. In addition, the index brings out certain areas where no State/UT has taken any initiative. Effective integration across departments is one such area. The N-LRSI analysis has brought out the poor synergy across land record departments — revenue department as the custodian of textual records, the survey and settlement department managing the spatial records and the registration department. The N-LRSI design entails a sub-component of updating of ownership (within Quality of Records component), which gauges the extent of integration between registration and textual records — swiftness of the process of updating ownership as the result of registration of a transaction, the phenomenon which is commonly known as mutation. The information obtained from all the State/UT sources in this regard revealed that no State/UT has the provision for mutation on the same day as the registration. Moreover, there are only seven States/UTs that have the second-best alternative wherein a note indicating the registration appears in the textual record copy. The study also brought out the weak linkage that exists between the revenue department and survey and settlement department. This creates a huge divergence between the land area reported by the textual and spatial record, enhancing the chances of legal disputes over the definition of boundaries and extent of a land plot. With such poor inter-departmental synergy, aspiring for updated and accurate records will always be a distant goal and States/UTs should strive to undertake necessary actions to have the appropriate systems in place.

With varied recommendations for land record management, the N-LRSI, 2020 holds immense significance for a number of related factors. It is likely to be a helpful tool to assess the quality of key Government services like PM-Kisan, that are dependent on land record details. The efforts by States to improve land record digitisation and quality are expected to increase the chances of accurate identification of PM-Kisan beneficiaries and enhance the scheme’s effectiveness.

The index can be a signalling factor for investors, as a clear title is one of the prerequisites for land acquisition that a firm envisions for setting up an industrial unit. An improved quality of land records, with accurate information that mirrors the ground reality, is expected to provide the necessary push to the underdeveloped mortgage market in India. As per the Committee on Household Finance, 2017 mortgages account for only 23 per cent of total liabilities in India. One of the primary reasons for this dismal situation is the inferior quality of land records, which are often not updated, indicating a high possibility of disputes. Without clear titles, it is not possible for banks to give out loans against the land/property. For instance, if the record does not get updated to reflect the subdivision of property, it cannot be used by the on-ground owner to request for a bank loan. With serious challenges of availability and use of data and information confronting the land policy and governance, the index promises to offer a pivotal solution to improve the existing situation.

The writer is Associate Fellow, NCAER and this piece was originally published in the Daily Pioneer on 14 March 2020.

NCAER Land Records and Services Index (N-LRSI) 2020

The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) recently released India’s first Land Records and Services Index(link is external). The NCAER Land Records and Services Index (N-LRSI) 2020 is based on data collected over 2019-20 on two aspects of the supply of land records—the extent of digitisation of land records and the quality of these land records. The first component, which aims to assess whether a state has made all its land records digitally available to citizens, looks at three dimensions—the text of the land records (also called the record of rights), the official map associated with a land record (also called cadastral maps), and the property registration process.

The second component of the Index aims to assess if the land records are comprehensive and reliable–are ownership details updated as soon as a sale occurs, the extent of joint ownership, type of land use, land area on the record and on the map, and are encumbrances being recorded (other claims on the property such as mortgages and court cases). All these elements are closely connected to land disputes and to the ease with which transactions in land can be completed and legally recorded and then conveniently accessed.

Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu are the five best-performing States on the N-LRSI 2020 (Figure 1).

Fig 1: N-LRSI 2020 State Rankings

While for the textual record digitization, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Goa appeared to be the leading states, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh topped the list for spatial record digitization. For the registration component, Maharashtra emerged as the leader, while Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh were the front-runners on the quality of their land records. The findings of the index 2019-20 exercise is likely to enable states go make efforts in the direction of creating more comprehensive and accurate land record, by adopting the initiatives that successful states have made in this direction.

The N-LRSI 2020 data would soon be made available on a land data portal that can be accessed through NCAER’s website. In addition to the N-LRSI State/UT wise scores and rankings, the portal would offer a platform to create your own N-LRSI by selecting specific (sub) components to visualize sensitivity of your state’s performance to these parameters.

For the next phase of N-LRSI, a demand-side survey of citizens will be added to the supply side information, to gauge the level of public awareness and satisfaction in using digital land records and associated services.

 

This piece was originally published in Land Portal on 04 March 2020.