In 2017, the Odisha state government passed a landmark law to provide land titles to slum dwellers. The law was founded upon a belief that secure land title will unlock multiple avenues to economic prosperity, and it aimed to benefit over 200,000 households. Odisha stands apart from other states – no other state in India has passed a similar law. It would not be fair to say that other states are not being as progressive as Odisha because there is simply insufficient evidence to show the impact of land related policies on the lives of people. Even if a progressive state wanted to evolve their own version of this law, or for that matter any other land or housing law, there isn’t enough advisory capacity among India’s policy researchers to help state governments. Property rights is an extremely under-researched, under-developed space in India, without sufficient evidence or thought leaders to guide the policy development. Yet it is the foundational underpinning of modern democratic societies, and a critical enabler of economic growth and at an individual level, a means to a meaningful life.
Both, central and state governments, are the main stakeholders in defining and securing property rights of citizens and businesses in India. However, the government’s ability to formulate laws, regulate action and execute policies is constrained by three critical factors.
First, there is a lack of robust data and evidence on issues related to property rights and its implications for citizens, government and businesses. This prevents the addressing of these issues in the mainstream discourse. Our previous investments in research studies like the study on informal settlements in Bengaluru used satellite imagery analysis to show that the actual number of informal settlements on the ground was closer to 2000, while the official lists enumerated 600. This implies a significant proportion of the population was “invisible” to the government.
Second, there is a lack of diverse voices in this space. Property rights requires a multi-disciplinary understanding of legal, economic, social, cultural, financial and political dimensions of the challenges.
Third, legal and administrative systems around land are complex and distributed across the three governance tiers (centre, state and local) and multiple departments (agriculture, housing, revenue etc.). This makes any reform harder to initiate and implement. It is further compounded by other issues such as laws that have not evolved in sync with ground reality, poor existing land records and lack of administrative capacity.
Our first step to address these gaps was to support our grantee, Indian Institute of Human Settlements, towards setting up a Center for Land Governance. IIHS is a premier academic institution and has contributed significantly towards building human capital in this sector, as well as engaging deeply with policy makers. Buoyed by our experience and learnings, we felt the need to support more organizations and grow the field, especially as a country of India’s size needs many actors working on these knotty issues.
Next, three leading research institutions – Brookings India, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), have come together to create a research consortium focused on property rights, funded by Omidyar Network India. The consortium aims to provide a platform for diverse voices in the field and elevate the discourse around land, housing and property rights. We also hope it will enable stakeholders to make better and more informed decisions based on robust evidence that their research unearths.
While each member institute will be independent, the group expects to generate better research through structured collaboration, competition, and feedback between researchers. As a collective effort, the consortium intends to drive joint dissemination and enhance convening power to mainstream the issue of land and property rights for a wider impact.
Together, we believe, the consortium will throw light on a wide range of issues, from urban housing to inheritance, from tribal land to agricultural land, and address each issue it researches in terms of local context, multiple laws, and overlapping administrative bodies. The consortium will therefore bring together diverse talent pools and differentiated skill-sets from data visualization to regulatory expertise to economic analysis to bring their stories to life.
We have also instituted a INR 3.5 crore (US$500,000) innovation fund for the consortium to draw in newer actors, reward and pilot innovative ideas and engage with opportunities for driving sector-level change.
Omidyar Network India is proud to support our partners in the consortium to create a platform that we hope will over time, become a thriving community of many more institutions, practitioners and funders striving towards securing the property rights of all of India’s citizens.