Policy in Action- Land Rights
The Centre for Policy Research turns fifty this year. Fifty years in the service of Indian policymaking, of keeping a robust conversation between the government, policymakers and the Indian populace alive – this is indeed a moment of pride and reflection for us. As we celebrate this special milestone, we present some snippets of our impact on the Indian policy sphere over the years in various areas of research.
This edition of Policy in Action, is dedicated to our work on Land Rights. The bulk of CPR’s work in this area is attributed to the Land Rights Initiative which was launched in 2014. Even today, almost 60 percent of all Indians are directly dependent upon land for their livelihoods. Land is not just an economic resource; it is also central to individual dignity and community identity, history, and culture. Land reforms were crucial not only to India’s economic development but also to its political independence and social redistribution story. The Indian Constitution adopted in 1950, safeguarded land rights of Scheduled Tribes, and through the inclusion of the fundamental right to property in Article 19(1) (f), guaranteed equal property rights to all Indians, including women and Dalits or Scheduled Castes for the first time.
However, as the development agenda played out over the following decades, there was a gradual demise of the right to property through a series of constitutional amendments between 1951 and 1978. Particularly vulnerable were the Scheduled Tribes, which constitute only 8.6% of India’s population but constitute nearly 40% of those displaced between 1950 and 1999, many of them twice in one lifetime due to dams, mines, wildlife parks, and sanctuaries. This widespread development-induced displacement has led to persistent and ubiquitous legal and extra-legal conflict over land, plaguing the lives of people across millions of hectares of land and threatening investments worth billions of dollars.
Here’s a snapshot of CPR’s work on Land Rights over the years:
- In 2017, CPR’s Land Rights Initiative (LRI) published a research report on Land Acquisition in India: A Review of Supreme Court Cases from 1950 to 2016 (CPR: 2017). This Report constituted a first-time-ever comprehensive attempt to analyse all judicial decisions by the Supreme Court on land acquisition. This Report has been used extensively by the Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development and has been used in training and capacity-building programmes by the National Highways Authority of India and the National Institute for Defence Estates Management. The Report has also been used widely by individual litigants defending their lands against governmental acquisition. That this Report is now the authoritative text on land acquisition is evident from the fact that it was cited by opposing parties, both the government and farmers, before the Supreme Court Constitution bench in Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal and others (2020).
- In 2018, LRI published a research report on The Legal Regime and Political Economy of Land Rights of Scheduled Tribes in Scheduled Areas of India (CPR:2018). This Report for the first time mapped the Scheduled Areas and plotted the forest cover and mines in India to show a significant overlap with the Scheduled Areas. Recommendations from this Report, and the National Seminar on Understanding Landlessness and Displacement of, and Atrocities against Scheduled Tribes co-organised by LRI and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) in 2018, and the 2020 NCST report on Tribal Land Alienation in India, for which Dr. Namita Wahi served as an expert advisor, were incorporated into NCST’s Annual report (2019-2020) under Article 338A of the Constitution. NCST’s Annual Report was sent to the President of India in early 2021.
- Consolidating our Land Rights work over a five-year period, the policy brief on Understanding Land Conflict in India: Suggestions for Reform (2019) highlighted conflicting “people” versus “state” narratives over land which in turn had led to over a thousand colonial and post-colonial laws and administrative practices.
- The absence of a publicly available comprehensive database of land laws greatly hampered citizen access to the laws that govern one of the most important aspects of our lives. The desire to fill this gap is what birthed LRI’s most ambitious project called One Thousand Land Laws: Mapping Indian Land Laws. Conceptualised and executed over a period of five years, this project involves an attempt to create a comprehensive, exploratory archive of all land laws in India, a veritable “google maps for land laws”. Last year, we launched the web and mobile versions of this website, accessible at landlawsofindia.org
- For their work in creating citizen awareness and deepening democracy, in 2020, LRI was one of fifteen organisations shortlisted for the inaugural Shamnad Basheer Citizenship Prize, which recognises organisations transforming the field of law and justice.
- LRI’s research papers have informed courses and curricula across law schools and social science programmes, and LRI’s internship programme has nurtured an entire generation of students in research on this complex subject. As the pioneering institution in the land policy space, LRI has also nurtured the land policy ecosystem by supporting the work of land policy initiatives at other research institutions.
To know details about CPR’s work on Land Rights, you can visit our website at https://cprindia.org/researcharea/land-rights/ or the work of the Land Rights Initiative https://cprindia.org/research/land-rights-initiative//. To know more about the Mapping Indian Land Laws project, visit landlawsofindia.org
Stay tuned for our next pop-up edition of Policy in Action, coming soon!