Improving land access for India's rural poor

Improving land access for India's rural poor

Towards market-friendly, pro-poor land legislation in India

Since Independence, India’s states have employed several land reform ‘tools,’ including reforming tenancy, imposing land ceilings, distributing government wasteland, and allocating house sites and homestead plots. This article briefly summarises some of these past efforts and attempts to draw broad lessons for informing possible policy paths ahead.

To date, the authors argue, the effectiveness of the legislation has been mixed and progress over the last few years has slowed. But the link between rural poverty and landlessness remains. A well-considered plan for rethinking and reforming policies and laws in a manner that advances the interests of the poor should lead India’s agenda. The plan can be both pro-poor and market friendly, and the required costs are not unthinkable.

In order for the original equitable objectives of India’s land reform legislation to be achieved, the authors call for a fresh approach to land legislation which involves selected revision to existing legislation and adoption of new methods of increasing land access. The authors suggest the following measures as part of this approach:

  • revitalise tenancy reform by (1) solidifying the gains of past tenancy reform by converting protected tenants into owners; and (2) selectively liberalising excessive tenancy regulation and restrictions
  • assist beneficiaries of ceiling legislation in realising the benefits by removing obstacles to land distribution and relaxing moratoriums on the transfer of ceiling-surplus land
  • consider adopting the decentralised Indira Kranthi Patham (formerly Velugu) project approach in Andhra Pradesh as a model for solidifying the gains of past wasteland allocation and otherwise providing secure land rights to the poor
  • explore using land purchase and existing government land to create new colonies of one-tenth acre house-and-garden plots for distribution to landless labourers

(adapted from the authors)
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