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 Property Rights
 
Symposium on Land Rights and Development in Hyderabad: A report
Liberty Institute, India Friday, December 31, 2010

Press Release
A day-long symposium on Land Rights and Development was organized in Hyderabad by Liberty Institute in association with Forum for Free Governance on December 26, 2010. The importance of private property rights in land was emphazised by all the speakers. Barun Mitra, the director of the Liberty Institute who delivered the keynote said that India was the only country where property right was recognized as a fundamental right in the Constitution at its inception, remained in the book for decades, and have eroded in course of time. Land is the prime, and the only form of property possessed by most people in poor countries like India, he added.

Civil society groups and concerned citizens in Andhra Pradesh resolved to work towards strengthening land rights in the state with a firm belief that the right to property was pre-requisite of any developmental activity and to achieve economic well being of the society. This commitment was given following the day-long symposium organized in Hyderabad by Liberty Institute, New Delhi, in association with Forum for Free Governance, Hyderabad, on December 26, 2010.

The symposium was held at Hyderabad Study Circle. About 60 participants, representing several civil society groups, rights and social activist attended the meeting. There were participants from Vishakhapatnam, Guntur, Tirupati and other parts of the state in addition to those from Hyderabad city. The representatives from Indian Liberal Group, Lok Satta, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Jana Chaitanya Vedika took active part in the deliberations.

Inaugurating the symposium, former chief justice of Allahabad High Court, Justice A Lakshmana Rao said land is major source of livelihood to over 70 per cent of people in the country. In the absence of proper land records, he said people are facing many problems. He felt ensuring availability of proper records was the first step in the implementation of right to property.

According to Justice Rao, Indians have sentimental attachment towards owning land. As a result, the poor and marginalized people are refusing to give up their right on land. Farmers were being deprived of their small holdings in a situation where agriculture was considered a dignified honest vocation. Appreciating the efforts of producing International Property Rights Index, since last four years, he suggested formulating India’s own index on property rights.

Earlier, former Member of Parliament, Dr Y Shivaji launched ‘International Property Rights Index 2010’.  It is an annual publication brought out over the past four years, by the Property Alliance; an International network of civil society organizations spread over 40 countries. The report assess the quality of property rights protection in over 100 countries, and finds that protection of this basic right is critical in shaping the developmental path of the country. There was a general consensus among the participants that adapting the parameters suitably for India, and building a similar index comparing the states would go a long way improving our understanding of the economic, political and social significance of right to property.

Launch of the "International Property Rights Index 2010" in Hyderabad.

L to R: Barun Mitra, Justice Lakshmana Rao, Padmanabha Reddy, Narendra Ch., and Y. Shivaji.

 

Dr Shivaji also deplored that in India property remains no longer a fundamental right after adopting of 44th amendment during emergency. He strongly protested against proposal of introducing contract farming as it would be an agreement among two unequal partners, where corporate houses would dictate terms to the farmers. Dr Shivaji recalled  Mr Charan Singh’s efforts as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in the 1960s, to consolidate land holdings of farmers by facilitating them to exchange their separate but small parcels of land, he called for such consolidation once again.

Mr S Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of the Forum for Good Governance and a retired Indian Forest Service officer, presiding over the inaugural session, said that with the help of civil society groups in Andhra Pradesh, they should initiate efforts to protect right to land. He proposed to undertake the process of documenting legal and procedural obstacles that have made land transaction costly and bred corruption.

Liberty Institute Director Mr Barun Mitra delivering key-note address, explained in detail how from the early days of democracy in Greek cities, more than 2000 years ago, land and property ownership played a significant role in stimulating political participation by a growing number of people. In India however, he said there was perhaps not as strong recognition of the social, economic and political significance of property ownership. Though, India was the only country where property right was recognized as a fundamental right in the Constitution at its inception in 1950, and remained in the book till 1978, Mr Mitra said that property rights were gradually eroded. However, he observed, that over the past five years land has emerged as a critical issue on India’s national agenda. And in poor country like India, land is the prime, and often the only form of property that people possessed.

Issues related to land acquisition was discussed in the first technical session. It was presided over by Prof P Narayana Reddy, Head of the Dept. of Business Management at Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology. Dr B Yerram Raju, member of Cooperative Banking experts group in the Government of Andhra Pradesh, participating as resource person said that over 80 per cent of land holdings are cultivated by tenant farmers, but they do not have any legal status. He expressed serious concern at the trend towards fragmentation of agricultural land, and its impact on food production. He suggested formulating a new system where all the land holdings in a village could be operated by the community, with owners possessing land certificates. Everyone could then enjoy the benefits of higher agricultural productivity and growth.

In the second technical session, issues related to tribal land rights were discussed. Dr P Sivaramakrishna, Director, SAKTI, an leading NGO in Andhra Pradesh, working for empowerment of tribal population on the issue of land rights, presided. Dr Sivaramakrishna lamented the failure to teach about land records and land maps at school or colleges, as a result there are very few people who are able to properly read and analyse land related documents. He recounted the need for barefoot land surveyors if ordinary people are to escape the ordeal of India’s opaque land laws and records.

Mr Ambrish Mehta, from ARCH of Gujarat, explained the issues related to implementation of tribal land rights under the Forest Rights Act enacted by the Government of India in 2006. He explained how tribal families could map their agricultural land, and the communities identify the village common land, using GPS devices. The villagers could also instinctively understand satellite images of their village, and identify their own land on the maps. Mr Mehta stressed that people and communities have to play a critical role in mapping their own resources. Greater people’s participation would promote awareness and lend legitimacy to the whole process. The process would also help resolve many land related dispute at the local level itself.

At the valedictory, Mr Barun Mitra suggested a follow-up action after this meeting. That include monitoring and documenting instances of land related protests and problems; a campaign on reforming land laws, particularly land acquisition law; developing a property rights index for Indian states, and compiling the best practices, to take up a mass campaign  on the lines of “Map Your Land” to encourage people to document their own land, beginning with the tribal land and building a network of partner organizations and citizens to support these efforts, especially helping with creation of a national cadastre with people’s participation, thus allowing the creation of a national land registry. Such a broad movement could help build social awareness regarding the need to protect property rights.

Prominent among the participants were. Mr P Chengal Reddy, President, Indian Federation of Farmers Organisations; Mrs Jaya Vindhyala, state general secretary and Chandra Sekhar, state president from PUCL, Dr Y Vishnu Priya, Associate Professor of law, Osmania University; K Narayana Reddy, farmers leader from Tirupati; S P Sankar Reddy of Raithanga Sanghatan from Nandyala; M Shaym Prasad, Secretary, AP Human Rights Council from Visakhapatnam; Lakshman Balaji, state general secretary; Dr P Bhaskara Rao, state secretary and Bandaru Ramamohana Rao, official spokesperson from Lok Satta; Ravela Somaiah, socialist leader; Dr S Jeevananda Reddy, environmental activist; V Lakshmana Reddy, president, Jana Chaitanya Vedika, were among the 60 participants.

There were about half a dozen media representatives, and many of the local English and Telegu newspapers reported the event the next day.

Following the symposium, Mr Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, Mr Ambrish Mehta and Ms Trupti Parekh of ARCH, and Dr P Sivaramakrishna drove to a few remote tribal villages in the  Nagarkurnool sub-division of the Mehabubnagar district, about 200 km from Hyderabad city. These villages, inhabited by the people of the Chenchu tribe, one of the poorest communities in the country, were in the periphery of the 10,000 sq km of forest in the Nallamula hills were largely The forested hills also have the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Reserve, the Srisailam hydro-electric dam on the Krishna river, and the famous Srisailam temple.

Villagers display schematic map of the area, and the land title document received under the Forest Rights Act. Trupti Parekh of ARCH and Dr Sivaramakrishna of Sakti in the foreground.

With the help of Dr Sivaramakrishna, who is an anthropologist, it was possible to get a glimpse of the affairs of this tribal community. The people in the Yerrapenta village showed the document granting them title of land under the Forest Rights Act.  They had also drawn up schematic maps of relevant locations in their vicinity, such as water bodies, grazing land, farm land, village common land. If these villagers were provided high resolution maps and satellite images, they would be able to accurately and easily identify their private fields, village common land, and sources of other resources such as minor forest produce.

Some of the villagers also recounted their daily woes. Although there is a large water body next to the small village, the motor to pump water had burnt out some months ago. The pump was to fill the newly constructed tank in order to supply piped water to the village. Now the taps have run dry, and the villagers have to again depend on the few hand pumps. They also said that electricity was available for only a few hours a day, as a result, they have to spend on diesel pumps to water their fields. Others mentioned that the village had a primary school, but the teacher came to the school only for a few days in a month. Despite many such daily problems, the fact that many of the villagers now possessed formal land titles, seem to have given them a sense of identity for the first time in their lives. These villagers seem to have taken their first steps as citizens of India.

This one and half day excursion was an enriching experience, and complemented the discussions at the symposium the previous day. This trip only underscored the urgent need for improving the land title and land record system in India.

The success of this programme is a reflection of the role played by Mr Narendra Ch, a senior journalist, in coordinating and presenting this event.


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This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Friday, December 31, 2010.
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