Land vs. housing: how effective are tenurial measures to house the urban poor?


Access to land in Indian cities is a major challenge for the urban poor due to the complexity of land tenure, scarcity of land, speculative land prices, and lack of political will. As a result, a majority of them are forced to live in informal settlements without having secure tenure, facing continuous threats of eviction and demolition, which puts them in an unending vicious cycle of poverty. Creation of new housing stock under different housing schemes has been the dominant strategy to address the housing shortage, but remains ineffectual on account of being a time consuming and capital intensive process. The other way to address the problem was to regularize and upgrade the existing housing stock occupied by poor groups. Over the years, state governments have introduced various tenurial measures to address this conundrum of housing and land. This article attempts a nuanced understanding of the effectiveness of these tenurial measures in augmenting and improving the urban poor housing scenario.
By  |  June 16, 2021

Housing production in Indian cities is a complex assemblage of location, services, work, and tenure, of which access to land is a major challenge for the urban poor. This is largely because of the complexity of land tenure, scarcity of land, speculative land prices, and lack of political will to make land available for the urban poor. Government estimates indicate that there has been a shortage of 18.78 million units of housing in urban India, of which 95% was accounted for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Low Income Group (LIG). As a result, a majority of the urban poor are forced to live in informal settlements without having secure tenure, facing continuous threats of eviction and demolition, which puts them in an unending vicious cycle of poverty.

Creation of new housing stock under different housing schemes has been the dominant strategy to address the housing shortage, but remains ineffectual on account of being a time consuming and capital intensive process. The other way to address the problem was to regularize and upgrade the existing housing stock occupied by poor groups. Over the years, state governments have introduced various tenurial measures to address this conundrum of housing and land. This article attempts a nuanced understanding of the effectiveness of these tenurial measures in augmenting and improving the urban poor housing scenario.

State wise Tenurial Measures:

States have adopted various tenurial measures in the form of schemes, programmes, acts, and bills to regularize the land parcels occupied by the urban poor in cities. A selection of these is shown in Figure 1 below. Some of these tenurial measures have been introduced long back but are still in effect; others have been introduced in recent times. All of these tenurial measures can be categorized into three models: patta model, land right certificate model and special area model.

  • Patta model: This is the oldest form of tenurial model adopted by the states since the post-independence period to allocate the land rights to poor. States have been using its existing acts to provide patta (title document) to urban poor in recent times. The states of West Bengal and Kerala have been using their Land Reforms Acts to distribute the Madhya Pradesh has been granting pattas to landless individuals under the MP Urban Landless (Conferment of Leasehold Rights) Act, 1984. Similarly, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have been using the Forest Rights Act, 2006 to allocate pattas to Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers occupying the forest land in urban areas.
  • Land right certificate (LRC) model: Among recently introduced tenurial measures, Odisha launched the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act, 2017. The act aims to provide an on-site land right certificate (LRC) to slum dwellers located within Municipal Council areas (up to 45 sq.m.) and Notified Area Councils (up to 60 sq.m.) across the state. In September 2020, the government of Odisha extended the scheme to slums located within Municipal Corporations as well. Similarly, the state of Punjab also announced the allocation of LRC to all slum dwellers occupying state government land located within the limit of Municipal Corporations, Municipal Council Areas and Notified Area Committees under the Punjab Slum Dwellers (Proprietary Rights) Act, 2020.
  • Special area model: This is a spatially targeted tenurial model aimed at regularizing land parcels and built-up structures occupied by the urban poor. In recent years, some southern Indian states have adopted this approach. In 2018, Tamil Nadu introduced a free of cost house-site patta scheme for the settlements located on the non-objectionable ‘poramboke land’. In January 2020, Karnataka announced a ‘regularization scheme’ for 60,061 urban poor families occupying government land by using section 94CC of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act. Shortly after, Andhra Pradesh also launched a house-site patta (maximum size of 48 square yards) distribution programme in March 2020, which aims to provide 25 lakhs house-site pattas to the landless urban poor living in informal settlements.

Figure 1: State-wise tenurial measures for informal settlements in India.

 

Besides these state-wise tenurial measures, Parliament also passed the  National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019, which aims to help more than 40 lakh people living in 1,731 Unauthorised Colonies (UCs) of Delhi. The bill legitimized land titles of residents of UCs based on documents like un-registered or notarised General Power of Attorney (GPA), Will, Agreement to Sale, Purchase and Possession documents, Payment letters, among others. After the completion of the registration processes, residents of UCs will be able to access formal credit and transact their property in the formal market.

How effective are these tenurial measures?

By and large, tenurial measures under the three models discussed above have been trying to deal with housing shortage by allocating land rights to urban poor. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of these tenurial measures can best be understood if we look at the state-wise performance of beneficiary led construction (BLC) – a sub-vertical of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U) scheme, which requires legal ownership of land to get state subsidy for housing construction. Figure 2 below makes it quite clear that the states with some history of land right distribution have been performing far better under BLC (Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala). However, there are several loopholes in the oldeer tenurial measures especially from the perspective of their conceptual and operational strategies, which make them less effective in improving urban poor housing scenarios.

Firstly, land rights distributed under the patta and special area models are discretionary in nature. The land right was provided through patchwork and didn’t include all the urban poor occupying the urban land parcels. In addition, income definition of urban poor and cut-off date for eligibility criteria are also highly variable, which further excludes a large section of urban poor. The lack of reliable micro level household income data makes the beneficiary selection an arbitrary process under these models.

Secondly, tenurial measures under patta and special area models are not interlinked with ongoing housing programmes, as it has been done under the LRC model in Odisha and Punjab. In addition, owning the land does not ensure access to government subsidies, but depends on local level political negotiations. For example, media reports in the state of West Bengal suggest that beneficiaries needed to bribe local ruling party leaders to get the subsidies under PMAY.

Thirdly, the land rights document offered under all three tenurial reform measures suffers from the ‘non-transferability’ condition. This raises a serious concern regarding the ability of the land to be mortgaged, which is important for accessing finance. A recent case study from Odisha shows that despite having mortgage rights under the Act, Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs) are not extending loan support to the urban poor due to the ‘non-transferability’ condition on the allotted land, thereby creating serious institutional or systemic bias. In such contexts, the urban poor are forced to depend on the informal sources of finance (e.g. family, friend, chit funds, and local money lenders) or loans at high interest rates (12–18 %) from affordable housing finance companies.

Figure 2: State-wise performance of the BLC vertical of PMAY. (Source: Unstarred Question No. 1157, Rajya Sabha, 20 December 2018)

Thus, it can be argued that to improve tenure security of land and the adequacy aspect of existing housing stock occupied by the poor groups, tenurial measures need to follow a universal area approach on provision of land rights as being done under LRC model, which help to address the selective exclusion of settlements under special area approach. Additionally, tenurial measures need to be linked with public housing policies and financial accessibility, so that land rights benefits can enable the urban poor to avail state subsidy to build or upgrade their houses and be able to access formal financial institutions. It might even enable the urban poor, as they advance financially, to create affordable rental housing stock for incoming migrants to the city.

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About the Author(s):

Malay Kotal

Malay Kotal is an urban researcher working on issues of housing and migration. He is currently working as a research consultant at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), New Delhi.

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