Ensuring land tenure rights to marginalised and vulnerable communities in India

Friday, 9th March 2018

India faces enormous challenges in its quest to develop in a socially conscience, economically and environmentally just manner.  In regards to developing responsible land governance, it remains a complex issue aggravated by a combination of systematic legal and institutional failures. Institutions that govern land, market and societies have fundamental weaknesses to address land and property issues of poor rural women and men, Tribals, and Dalits.


Land and forest registration have not been effective in addressing the control of ownership of forests by state and powerful private land owners. Likewise, there is no incentive to identify landless, homesteadless, tenants, single women, Tribals, Dalits and other such communities, who face several deprivations to revert societal inequalities.

The case for sustainable and just land governance faces attacks from two different sides. On one hand there is absolute landlessness, illegal tenancy, land alienation of all kinds, and lack of implemented land ceiling laws that are affecting land governance in India. On the other hand, there is the logic of the market that is demanding more land for industries, infrastructure and mines, and is leading to large-scale land acquisition by the public or private sector without just and adequate information or compensation. To further complicate the problem, social institutions of caste and patriarchy and their politics create and maintain social barriers against women, Dalits, and Tribals, particularly in the ownership of land.

India Land Conference

A conference was held in New Delhi to discuss land governance issues in India on 20th February 2018, as an effort to contribute in exchanging conversations on how technology, decentralization, innovation & capacity can improve land governance in India. It was also aimed at connecting local and global land issues and discourses. 

The event was attended by representatives from more than 15 countries and over 40 papers were presented by the stakeholders from Government of India, State Governments, International Institutions, UN agencies, bilateral donors, people’s representatives, media, academia, NGOs, researchers, consultants, practitioners who involved with issues around land. 

NES India at the conference

Members part of NES India took part in one of the session delivered entitling People Centred Land Governance - Ensuring Land Tenure Rights to marginalised and vulnerable communities. 

Chaired by Mr Ramesh Sharma from the National Convener of Ekta Parishad, the panel members discussed the status of land reform policies in India and use of various strategies, such as use of judiciary, people’s mobilization, policy influencing and evidence-based advocacy, to ensure the implementation of the pro-poor and pro-people policies, as well as to establish the good practice models.

The session itself was being presented by NES India members, delivering through specific themes as follows:

1. Importance of Free Prior Informed Consent on the issue related to land acquisition and managing other Natural resources by Vidhya Rawat  of SDF (Social Development Fund).

2. Interdependence of pastoralists and other marginalised communities on Commons Land: Issues and Challenges by Dinesh Rabari of MARAG (Maldhari Rural Action Group). The challenges on commons are mostly encountered through large scale land acquisition and land grabbing, however, the panel also offered ways forward and the importance of collaborative efforts in managing and protecting these lands.

3. Forest Rights Act: Key Issues and Prospects by Brijesh/Nirmalendu Jyotishi of FES (Foundation of Ecological Security). It was presented that based on the data issued by the Government of India, the implementation of Forest Rights Act only reached 3% in the country, however, the Land Forum India with it’s members are working collectively to ensure tenure rights for the tribal and other forest dwellers, by also at the same time engaging with the government, the affected community, and other stakeholders, in order to make contributions towards effective operationalization of FRA.

4. Paper by Anju Burk and others (Landesa) on Community Identification and Validation – A Model towards Transparency in Land Allocation Process in Uttar Pradesh.

It was an interactive experience where the audience had the chance to share their experience on tenure rights issues. The participants were included Tim Hanstad, the co-founder and senior advisor, LANDESA, Katia Araujo, the Director of Advocacy, Landesa, Pranab Chaudhary, Organising Secretary, ILDC, amongst others from civil society, private sector, academician, media and research institutes.

NES India facilitator, Anu Verma, was invited as a panellist for the session on Securing rights of women ‘farmers’–concerns and challenges organized by Working Group of Women and Land Ownership (WGWLO). Based on field experiences, learning, challenges and initiatives for ensuring land rights and women farmers’ rights, in terms of ownership, access and control of resources, the session addresses discourse on expanded definition of women farmers and critical analysis of existing policies on women farmers. Anu was also presenting the works of NES India members on ‘Right to Public Land and Rights of Women Farmers - Cattle and Small Ruminant Rearers’.

ILDC is a multi stake conference on land development which involved stakeholders from the state, government, civil society, academicians, researchers, donor organisations, private sector, philanthropic organisation. This is an opportunity to build network, create collaboration, and develop synergies of working on land governance. 

*Story and picture by NES India Facilitator and Ekta Parishad