Land features as both an explicit and implicit parameter within the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework. It appears prominently as part of SDG 1: ‘Removing poverty in all forms’, via ensuring equal rights to economic resources including control over land and other forms of property, especially for the poor and vulnerable (Target 1.4). Secure and equal access to land for small-scale food producers, particularly women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers (Target 2.3) is expected to lead towards SDG 2: ‘ending hunger and achieving food security’. Goal 5, which talks about ‘achieving gender equality’, mentions as targets, reforms to provide women access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property (Target 5a).
Significantly, land also forms an implicit part of Goal 11, which aims at ‘making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. The targets for Goal 11 include ensuring access to affordable housing, enhancing sustainable urbanisation, providing access to green and public spaces, and sustainable transport systems, among others. All of these are possible only when there is a land governance system that is accessible, equitable, resource efficient and sustainable.
In terms of method, the inclusion of land in the SDGs marks a departure from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which referred to land or property only with respect to improvements in the lives of ‘slum’ dwellers as a target under the then larger MDG of ‘Ensuring Environmental Sustainability’ (Goal 7). The inclusion of land-based parameters, whether explicit or implicit, may indicate recognition and acknowledgement of underlying structural conditions—of which land relations form a significant part—while addressing critical issues of poverty, hunger and sustainability (Besley & Burgess, 1998). This is important in both urban and rural areas, even as specific contexts for rural and urban India vary.
Related to this is the role of land governance and of institutions, especially in the government, which have historically existed to govern, manage and regulate questions of ownership and use of land amid changing realities—transitions within the rural, peri-urban as well as the urban. The particular political economy and political ecology makes land and property relations a very difficult issue to manage effectively, while at the same time being indispensable towards making any progress in attaining the SDGs mentioned above. Some of these structural issues in India are discussed briefly in the brief.