Along with the economic benefits of land titling there are social implications attached to the move.
Odisha’s CM Naveen Patnaik commenced the world’s largest slum land titling project in May 2018, in accordance with the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Bill 2017 which was passed in September. The initiative aims to create sustainable living conditions for the urban poor through formalising their living spaces. It forms part of the state’s Liveable Habitat Mission and aims to target approximately one million people residing in 2,500 slums across Odisha.
The Act changes the state’s practices of eviction and treating people as encroachers to recognising the large economic potential and contributions to the life of the city by providing them with land rights. The Act has two interlaced objectives: the first is to improve the living conditions of slum dwellings and second, to provide security against the threats of demolition and eviction.
Those living in Nagar Panchayats or Notified Area Councils will receive titles to 600 square feet of land (55.7 square meters), those in Municipalities 450 square feet (41.8 square meters) and those in Municipal Corporation Areas 300 square feet (27.9 square meters) of built up areas for residential use. According to the Commissioner-cum-Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, G. Mathi Vathanan, two lakh titles will be granted by December 2018. After issuing the certificate of land rights, efforts shall be made to link the households to affordable housing schemes implemented by Awaas Mission of the state government to support finance access for constructing their homes. In addition to the land titles, the beneficiaries are promised two lakh rupees towards building new homes, along with basic services such as electricity, healthcare, education, sanitation, Anganwadis (rural mother-child care centres), skill development and most importantly, freedom from the perpetual fear of eviction.
The economic implications of this move by the government should have ripple effects throughout the state’s economy. In accordance to Hernando de Soto’s theory, land without titles is seen as dead capital or as an “asset that cannot easily be bought, sold, valued or used an investment.” Hernando de Soto's work reveals that even those who live in slums possess far more capital than anyone realises, as the land that they occupy can be used as collateral once legalised. Through the provision of titles, this land now becomes economically viable. The Act provides the slum dweller with a ‘certificate of land right’, presenting them with a non-transferable, heritable and, mortgageable right to the allotted piece of land. Further, the certificate is considered a valid proof of residence. De Soto’s research shows that the provision of land titles in Argentina and Peru to slum dwellers had positive effects, including leading to increased house renovations and a higher rate of investments. The Act may also enable new land owners to seek lines of credit using their new found ability to offer collateral, leading to greater economic and entrepreneurial activity.
Along with the economic benefits of land titling there are social implications attached to the move. The Act follows previous legislation in the state requiring the certificates of land rights to be issued in the name of both of the spouses. Studies have shown that legislative measures such as mandatory inclusion of both spouses in land titles in the state have previously lead to a decrease in gender disparity. According to the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) Odisha is among the top three states for land ownership by women: 63% of women and 85% of men in the state own a house alone or jointly, compared to the national average of 37% for women and 65% for men. The NFHS also reports that 47% of women, and 69% of men, in Odisha, own land alone or jointly. The national average stands at 28% for women and 49% for men. The measures should also aid the effort to empower women in the state as by gaining ownership of land, social power dynamics can be altered. Studies by Panda (2003), Agarwal (1997) have shown that empowerment stems from land ownership. Further the self-worth of slum dwellers may increase as a consequence of legalisation.
There are number of limitations in terms of collateralisation however, the legislation requires slum dwellers to use allotted land for residential purposes only. A slum dweller cannot hold more than one certificate of land right issued in terms of the Legislation nor transfer ownership. Failure to abide by these terms can result in cancellation of the issued certificate of land right, and can also result in imprisonment or imposition of a fine. This reduced the financial viability of the land title and restricts the economic transactions that it can be used for. Nor can the long term benefits of this Act be concretely assumed as neither previous studies have been conducted in India nor are the long term impacts known. In addition to the potential benefits of the Act, there are also risks, including this initiative being perceived as a threat to ownership by slum residents as those dwellers who are not from economically weaker sections to have to pay a certain amount for land. There is also the question of possible deficiencies in provision of infrastructure and amenities by the government as seen in similar projects in different states. However, there are solutions to these problems as the fact that the money collected is credited to a fund only to be used for slum improvement needs to be made clear to the community. Also questions of squatting need to be answered by policy initiatives to prevent illegal settlements. Further the possible problem of government inefficiencies is being counteracted by the participation of Tata Trusts in a private sector capacity, through providing technological expertise.
Overall the State’s titling attempt is a step in the right direction as it moves away from traditional harmful practices such as mass resettlement and evictions. The Act defines a clear way forward to reduce the informality in the state as well as provide basic services and utilities to citizens who may have previously been overlooked. It should have long term benefits economically and socially for those living in informal housing.
The author is a research intern at ORF Delhi.
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