The Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas (SVAMITVA) a Central Government scheme which is currently underway in 6 Indian states, aims to provide property rights to rural homeowners living in abadi areas, set aside by gram panchayats for residential purposes. This paper examines the legal issues that may arise in implementing it and the social consequences this scheme would likely have on the ground. Legal amendments to revenue and other laws applying to abadi properties are needed to introduce property cards (as a legal document of property ownership) as well as taxes (in states where abadi properties were either not taxed or exempted from taxes); and to provide gram panchayats with the legal authority to maintain and update records. The scheme is restricted in the ambit to abadi properties and relies on documented possession, thus excluding homes outside abadi areas such as homestead properties that combine residential and garden properties; and those possessing non-ownership rights such as squatter settlements or extensions of abadi properties that are not recorded. Furthermore, the reliance on documented possession would exclude women from co-owning their homes.
Given that the scheme essentially transfers public land to private individuals, the inclusion of women as co-owners, as has been done in other land distribution schemes, could have been adopted. This could have vastly improved women’s property ownership in India, a goal that is espoused in the NITI Aayog’s Strategy for New India@75. Despite the vast repertoire of laws and precedents of earlier schemes and initiatives by states to address unequal access to land and property, the scheme fails to use them to include these socio-economically weaker groups. Given the deeply encrusted social inequalities prevailing in Indian villages, the process of marking boundaries and determining ownership of property is a political one, that can be hijacked by more powerful groups in villages. The lack of community participation in the implementation of the scheme which is primarily driven by revenue officers will likely reinforce existing social hierarchies.